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Another I-94 exit?

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Consider this next time you're driving through any part of Douglas County: By 2030, the local population is expected to increase by 30 percent - from 32,000 to an estimated 46,000 residents.

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More people means more traffic.

More traffic means local roads need to be ready for the influx.

On Tuesday, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners reviewed an updated version of the Alexandria Area 2030 Transportation Plan.

The plan provides an overview of road projects that are scheduled to happen soon, like adding another northbound lane to Nokomis Street (Highway 29 North) to County Road 46 - near McDonald's north (see related story).

The plan also includes a "wish list" of transportation updates that local officials hope to have in place by 2030 - things like adding an Interstate 94 interchange near Alexandria.

The Highway 29 interchange - what locals refer to as the "main Alexandria exit" -- is a heavily traveled route.

So where should the new interstate access be located?

During Tuesday's board meeting, not everyone agreed with the recommended site.

According to the plan, there are two potential locations for new I-94 interchanges - one at County Road 17 or one at County Road 106, both east of Alexandria.

It should be noted that there are no plans to build a new interchange. Tuesday's presentation was intended to reveal new interchange options based on traffic and population projections for 2030.

I-94 and County Road 106

One of the proposed interchange additions would be located at County Road 106 - about two miles east of the Highway 29 exit from I-94.

Traffic analysis indicates the County Road 106 option would relieve traffic at the Highway 29 interchange.

An interchange at County Road 106 is projected to attract 7,000 vehicles per day; with the new interstate access, the traffic volume on County Road 106 is projected at 8,000 vehicle trips per day.

As a result of an interchange at County Road 106, the following roadways can also expect increased traffic: County Roads 106, 81, 46/43 and 23.

Plus, an east-west frontage road would be built to connect County Roads 106 and 23.

I-94 and County Road 17

The County Road 17 interchange would be located about five miles east of Highway 29 on I-94; it would act as an east side bypass of Alexandria.

The bypass would run north on County Road 17 to Highway 27 and then to Liberty Road. From there, Liberty Road would be extended to connect with County Road 20 near Carlos. At that point, drivers could connect with Highway 29, north of Alexandria.

The analysis indicated a County Road 17 interchange would be "too isolated from major trip generators and travel routes to relieve traffic on the Highway 29 corridor."

It was also reported that the County Road 17 interchange would attract only 2,100 additional vehicles per day and this option should be considered sometime into the future.

During the presentation Tuesday, a representative from the Minnesota Department of Transportation said most of the Highway 29 drivers are making a stop somewhere in Alexandria during their drive and the numbers don't show over the next 20 years that a bypass would be needed.

Commissioners sound off

Commissioner Jerry Johnson said, "The County Road 106 interchange doesn't seem to fix anything. It's all developed in that area and it's going to be a mess. How are you going to [exit] the new high school or the new Knute Nelson project if you're bringing traffic in off the freeway?"

Instead, Johnson said he favored the County Road 17 interchange and he proposed adding a frontage road from County Road 17 to 106 that would parallel I-94.

"It would be a straight shot to get into Alexandria," he said.

Commissioner Norm Salto agreed with Johnson and said, "Let's not look in the rearview mirror on this. Let's look ahead. County Road 106 to County Road 46 is going to be overloaded.

"Anyone who has things to do in town north of 6th Avenue would use County Road 17 [to get there] - it's a no-brainer," Salto said. "People I've talked to said County Road 17 is the way to go."

Johnson said he'd hate to see the county spend money on the County Road 106 interchange and then, several years down the line when the project is ready to go, have the community say they want the County Road 17 interchange instead.

With a 4 to 1 vote, the county board approved the plan - Salto was opposed.

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Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, Amy’s first job was at KSAX-TV working as an anchor and reporter. From 2003-2010, Amy worked as an editor and reporter for the Pope County Tribune and Starbuck Times newspapers. During her journalism career, Amy earned writing and photography awards from the Associated Press, Minnesota Newspaper Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Amy and her husband, Brandon, live in Alexandria and together write “He Sez, She Sez,” a humor column in the local women’s magazine, Chicz. Away from work, Amy and Brandon spend time bass fishing and keeping tabs on their charismatic dog, Cash, who has been known to jump out of the boat to “retrieve” the bass lures.
(320) 763-1242
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