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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Rochester feels the strains of rapid growth

  • Since 2000, the city has annexed nearly 10,000 acres, and farm fields have given way to housing developments and strip malls, especially on the northwest side.
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  •  As the Mayo Clinic seeks state money to help with its planned expansion, Minnesota's third-largest city is feeling the strain from the rapid growth it has already seen.
    Rochester's population has doubled since 1970 to more than 107,000 and is projected to grow by another 32,000 in 20 years. Since 2000, the city has annexed nearly 10,000 acres, and farm fields have given way to housing developments and strip malls, especially on the northwest side.
    But city planner Phil Wheeler told Minnesota Public Radio for a story that aired Tuesday (http://bit.ly/YE0kjJ ) that a lot of that single-family, low-density development hasn't been paying for the infrastructure needed to support it.
    "We should be putting a lot more into our capital improvements program to reconstruct roads in order to do it at the lowest life cycle cost," Wheeler said. "We're way under that. We annexed areas without curb and gutter, without sidewalks and so on. So we have this area that needs to be brought up to an urban standard in order to handle the urban density of development that will occur there."
    The city's main employer, the Mayo Clinic, has asked the state to provide a half billion dollars to help pay for roads, bridges and sewers as it becomes an even bigger global medical hub. Mayo plans to invest $3 billion of its own money, too.
    Officials estimate Rochester has enough land to hold a population of 200,000. And it has agreements with six adjacent townships that could allow the city to annex up to 22,000 additional acres.
    But Rochester needs more than just space. It expects to need $2.4 billion for transportation infrastructure — to pave roads, add sidewalks and handle other needs — in the next 25 years. Officials expect to have $1.6 billion after subtracting expected costs from anticipated revenue, leaving them searching for a way to come up with another $816 million.
    Wheeler said the city's forecasts assume state funding will be forthcoming to help create Mayo's Destination Medical Center — or DMC — which could add up to 15,000 highly-paid doctors, researchers and support staff and another 25,000 spin-off jobs in southeastern Minnesota in the next two decades
    Other mid-size cities like Rochester are also coming to recognize the costs associated with growth, said Ed Goetz, a professor and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
    "For many years, local officials sort of went under the assumption that growth pays for itself in the sense that the attraction of business and then the attraction of more residents will enhance the tax base and that will pay for the types of services and amenities necessary," Goetz said. "But there's been some growing acknowledgement that that's not always the case."

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