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Residents learn about interchange's impacts

Diane Logue may have to find another place to ride her horses once the new interchange is built on Highway 52 and County Road 24 in Cannon Falls.

The massive project's access roads will cut through large portions of her rural property.

But Logue is not complaining.

She is looking forward to the project and what it means for the city, its businesses and approximately 4,000 residents.

"For the life of Cannon Falls, we need it," Logue said. "We'll die without this. This will bring growth."

Logue and other community members learned more about the project's environmental, physical and social impacts Wednesday at an open house to gather official comments for required state and federal evaluations.

Studies have indicated the interchange is needed to handle projected traffic increases the next 20 to 30 years. The project also will help make the stretch of road safer and create a better link between Rochester and the Twin Cities.

Residents wondered whether those traffic assessments were accurate and if the project was necessary if the number of vehicles traveling Highway 52 does not spike as predicted.

"The basic need is there with the current traffic," said Greg Paulson, assistant engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 6. "If the numbers happen a little slower, you still have that safety component I feel is driving the need for the project."

Approximately 90 acres - including some of Logue's property - will need to be purchased from landowners, though officials said the interchange will improve Cannon Falls' economy.

"As access improves, interchanges tend to bring about interest in development," said Ken Holte with SRF Consulting Group. "These should be good for the community."

Some businesses will need to be relocated and approximately 30 acres of farmland will be converted for transportation use, according to environmental documents.

Officials said the project also lies within an area with high to very high groundwater sensitivity and will therefore be built with limited use of contaminants.

Ponds and ditches could be lined if necessary, Holte said.

Officials said there are several high-risk contamination sites near the project area, though they do not see the sites causing major problems.

MnDOT officials will assess the current and former uncontrolled dump areas this spring and determine whether they will affect the location of an overpass on the project's north end.

The $38.5 million interchange project is not currently funded, though Goodhue County and other local officials have applied for a $20 million grant to build a smaller version of the interchange.

Public Works Director Greg Isakson expects to learn soon whether the Cannon Falls project received the grant.

Logue said some community members are still skeptical of the project but that overall residents are looking forward to the change after years of research and public meetings.

"I think now the community and our council are proactive," Logue said. "This is a really good plan."