– The city of Rochester wants to know what it would cost to build a deck over a portion of Hwy. 52 as it searches for ways to ease the city's parking woes.

If the structure held ramps like those behind Target Center in Minneapolis, it could serve some of the tens of thousands of new employees and new residents expected as the city and the Mayo Clinic expand.

The deck idea was one of several raised Thursday morning as Rochester's director of public works, Richard Freese, delivered a transit report two years in the making to the Destination Medical Center Corporation board of directors, the group overseeing a 20-year plan to grow the city as the Mayo Clinic expands.

Transit and parking have emerged as key issues in the city's expansion plans, and the much-anticipated report will help steer future conversations as Rochester grapples with how to get everyone to and from work without snarling city streets with traffic.

Some of the main ideas in the report included shifting Mayo workers and other downtown employees from surface lot parking to park-and-ride lots at the city's edges, providing better transit, upgrading and redesigning streets and encouraging people to bike and walk to work.

The key to making changes will be breaking people's expectations that they can drive themselves everywhere without creating traffic jams, said Freese. There's just not enough room to build the parking and streets necessary for single-occupancy cars.

"I don't think there's ever been one city that has built its way out of congestion," he said.

That said, the city still expects some 8,000 new parking spaces to materialize by 2040 with all of the construction activity downtown. Another 8,700 spaces could be built at large intermodal parking hubs at the city's outskirts. The hubs might feature needed services and retail to make people's commutes more convenient, said Freese.

Deck over Hwy. 52?

The decking idea was discussed earlier during DMC planning, but DMC Board Chairman R.T. Rybak said Thursday that it was initially dismissed as not feasible.

Since then, efforts in St. Paul, Edina and elsewhere to build lids or decks over freeways have taken root, and Rybak encouraged Rochester to reconsider the idea. Rybak said it could be especially attractive for the city if the deck supported private businesses or provided some means of capturing property tax revenue for the city.

The city will apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study the decking idea. Two more grant requests will seek funding for electric buses fueled by a solar array and interchange improvements to the Hwy. 52-Hwy. 14 intersection.

The DMC project, which blends private investment with public money to fuel growth over 20 years, was originally seen as a needed step to keep Mayo competitive. The clinic will expand its campus and extend its medical know-how with $3.5 billion in investments over the course of the DMC's life span, while private investors are expected to add another $2.1 billion in residential, retail and commercial investments. About $585 million in taxpayer funds will build the public infrastructure necessary to tie it all together and make Rochester a destination in its own right.

The overall impact of the project includes adding tens of thousands of jobs and new residents to Rochester while adding billions in tax revenue to city, county and state collections.

Also Thursday, the board approved tax-increment financing worth $11 million for four private projects worth a combined $342 million in private investment in Rochester. The projects include Bloom International Realty's $230 million riverfront towers project along the South Fork of the Zumbro River, the Ryan Companies' $26.6 million renovation of a Wells Fargo location in the heart of downtown, a $42 million remake of the Holiday Inn, and the $44 million Hyatt House project with extended-stay hotel rooms.

The combined impact of the projects includes 347 residential units, 529 new or renovated hotel rooms, 43,517 square feet of retail space, 600 parking stalls, 599 construction jobs, 456 new permanent jobs and $3.4 million in property taxes, according to the DMC Economic Development Agency.