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A plan to upgrade U.S. Highway 16/52 through Preston has a number of business owners concerned about the economic impact the project will have on their futures.
The project, which would upgrade Highway 52 from Fountain into Preston, is scheduled for construction in 2002, with storm sewer work beginning in 2001. The project is expected to improve traffic flow while helping to control water runoff. The project features a Water Detention Pond near the Branding Iron and a sidewalk running along the south side of the highway.
Based on Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) preliminary designs, the number of street exits off the highway into Preston will be reduced from 11 to seven. The plan will also alter access to the highway for several businesses.
Proposed changes include:
• Closing highway access to Washington, St. Paul, St. Anthony and Pleasant Streets to the south.
• Closing highway access to Farmer Street going north.
• Closing highway access to Preston Lumber, B&B Olympic Bowl, Spex Feed and Citgo One Stop; limiting the Motor Mart to one driveway.
• Two properties would be bought out and vacated: Curt’s Standard and the Jerry Scheevel home.
The project will eliminate the Y interchange, which is the main entrance into Preston and relocate it one block east to Houston Street.
PRELIMINARY DESIGNS FOR THE HIGHWAY 16/52 UPGRADE would reduce the number of street exits and drive ways off the highway. The project will eliminate the Y interchange, the main entrance into Preston, and relocate it one block east to Houston Street.
Dorie Besse, co-owner of Preston Service Plus, a body shop on Houston Street, said that the project will drastically change their business. According to the design map, the body shop will have one driveway access off Houston Street and no off-street parking. Besse said that this will eliminate access to seven of their eight service bays, five of which are on the back side of their building.
Preston City Administrator, Fred Nagel, said that the city is very concerned about the impact the project will have on highway businesses.
City and county officials met with MnDOT on Thursday to begin looking at alternative options. Nagel told the Journal that one option would be to move the main south entrance into Preston from Houston Street to St. Paul Street .
“The problem with this is that it takes the highway that much farther away from the One Stop,” Nagel said.
Brian Jergenson, spokesperson for MnDOT in Rochester, said that the department is also concerned about minimizing the impact that projects of this nature have on communities.
“We will be setting up public hearings on the upgrade in the coming year, where people can come forward with their concerns,” Jergenson said. “Nothing is set in stone at this point. We consider this to be a work in progress.”
Jergenson said that while MnDOT is sensitive to the needs of communities and businesses, it is also the goal of MnDOT to control access points to highways for safety reasons.
Other concerns that some in Preston are raising about the design of the project, include:
• The plan does not address pedestrian access across the highway, especially for children walking to school.
• With the reduction in highway exits going south, there is a concern that Chatfield Street which runs past the middle and elementary school would become a primary artery into town, raising safety issues.
• While turn lanes are planned for the Houston Street intersection, there are no plans for a signal light. Some people believe that there will be congestion at that intersection, especially for vehicles attempting to cross the highway.
Even though the highway project design is still in the comment period, there is a fear among highway business owners that, with storm sewer construction scheduled for the 2001 construction season, the speed of the project will have a life of its own.
“The body shop has been here for 65 years,” Besse said. “The writing is on the wall. If this project continues as is, it’ll be the end of our business as it stands.”
By John Torgrimson