Before a new pedestrian tunnel near Rosemount High School opened, freshman Bryan Hernandez usually had to wait about 10 minutes for a break in traffic on Hwy. 3 before he managed to cross the road.
With the new tunnel, he said crossing the highway now takes about 30 seconds.
“I think it’s perfect right now,” Hernandez said. “It helps me get to school quick, and it’s easy and fun.”
The tunnel opened to pedestrians and bicyclists before the school year began, but the Rosemount Youth Commission will formally open it with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Visitors may park at the nearby Rosemount Community Center and walk south on the trail to the underpass.
In addition to Rosemount High School, the tunnel benefits people traveling to the community center, Rosemount Middle School and Rosemount Elementary.
The tunnel also furthers a city and county goal of creating a trail system that would stretch from Lebanon Hills Regional Park through downtown Rosemount and east to the Mississippi River.
Rosemount used $900,000 in municipal state aid funds to cover the costs of the project, built in July and August.
City leaders have had a plan for the tunnel for 10 years, but the concept did not come to fruition until GlenRose residential development took shape on the east side of Hwy. 3 and traffic levels increased.
Before the tunnel opened, Hernandez said he would either have to travel out of his way to the nearest signalized intersection and wait for a lengthy traffic signal — or try to dart across the highway elsewhere.
“It’s jaywalking, and also it’s really dangerous because you don’t know when there’s a car coming, and it’s a pretty fast road,” Hernandez said. “I had tons of trouble. I’d have to always be looking for cars.”
Now his entire trip to school from his house takes about 10 minutes — the same amount of time he said he would spend simply waiting to cross the road.
The tunnel, made of precast concrete, is about 14 feet wide, 10 feet high and 124 feet long. It includes lighting that Hernandez said provides a modern look.
“A lot of kids use it, and they all say the same thing — it’s a cool place,” he said.
His principal, John Wollersheim, said Hwy. 3 — also known as S. Robert Trail — has become congested as Rosemount has grown.
“We now have a lot of students who live east of Hwy. 3,” Wollersheim said. “It’s a really nice trail under Hwy. 3 connecting our schools to all those brand-new, blossoming housing developments east of Hwy. 3. I think it’s a really nice, safe connection for adults and kids going to school or just recreating or exercising.”
‘Quality of life’
The tunnel and plans for a more extensive trail system also help further a school district goal of promoting student health, Wollersheim said.
“In today’s age, there’s a big emphasis on trying to teach students healthy lifestyles and all of us trying to live in a healthy manner,” Wollersheim said.
The trail system should make Rosemount more attractive to residents who are interested in bicycling and walking, he said.
“One of the things people look for is quality of life and the ability to get out and enjoy the community and the outdoors,” he said.
Rosemount Planner Jason Lindahl called the tunnel an essential link in the city’s trail system.
City documents have identified the highway, which has a speed limit of 45 miles per hour, as a key barrier to safety and pedestrian and bicycle activity in Rosemount.
After the Rosemount City Council identified the project as a priority, planners evaluated several locations for a crossing before narrowing it down to the tunnel location near the high school athletic stadium, said Phil Olson, Rosemount’s assistant city engineer.
Although the School District did not pay for the work, the project benefited from the use of some district property. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and utility operators also cooperated with the initiative.
Since the tunnel opened, Hernandez said he has noticed its effects on a daily basis.
“I feel safer,” he said. “It’s better than running across the road.”
Seth Rowe is a Twin Cities freelance writer.