At the intersection of Hwy. 169 and County Road 30 in Brooklyn Park, planners' visions for the future are colliding with a farm family's history.
The crossroads, troubled by backups and accidents, is in line for a major reworking in the next couple of years. Officials say it will make the roads safer, improve traffic flow and pave the way for future development.
But it also will mean the end of a nearly 100-year run for the Fischbach family farm, where Nellie Fischbach has lived since she married Bud Fischbach in 1948. Two of their seven children, Mary Johnson and Charlie Fischbach, now operate the place, selling corn, pumpkins and Christmas trees out of a former dairy barn on the southern edge of the property.
On Dec. 20, the Brooklyn Park City Council will consider a plan that would create an overpass above 169 and take County Road 30 in a northward curve, taking out the old barn and two houses on the property, as well as another house to the west of Hwy. 169. Two access loops and large drainage ponds would overtake the fields where corn stalks, unclaimed pumpkins and soybean leaves now molder under a coat of snow.
The timetable for the city-county-state project is uncertain, but if the plan is approved, Johnson and Charlie Fischbach figure they'll have one more planting season at the farm.
The family has known a change was coming, but they were unprepared when the timing was bumped up by, of all things, the recession. Federal stimulus money accelerated the extension of Hwy. 610 to the north, and that in turn has sped up the timeline for work at Hwy. 169 and County Road 30.
The family's seven siblings are not of one mind about the farm's future. But Johnson and Charlie Fischbach stand to lose their income and the way of life they've built for their families. Nellie Fischbach, 90, stands to lose the home her children have helped adapt to her needs.
"If I had anything to say about it, which I won't have, I would say I wouldn't want any road extension," she said recently. "We're farming here."
The Fischbachs have been down this road before. The state bought a swath of land through the property more than 40 years ago to build Hwy. 169, Nellie Fischbach said. She was pregnant with her youngest child. They had to move their house. But the road wasn't completed for many years. After her husband died in 1982, she sold another parcel when city water and sewer came through, because she couldn't afford the assessment. Rasmussen College, on the southeast part of the intersection, was built about 10 years later.
Over the decades, she's seen other families' farms disappear. The property that was 100 acres when she married now is only about 20.
The family doesn't dispute that something needs to change, but thinks this isn't the way to do it. Officials sympathize but say they need to proceed with an eye on both the present and the future.
Unclogging an intersection
On a recent morning, well after the rush hour peak, cars and trucks queued up half a mile south of the stoplight at 169 and 30.
The intersection had 21 crashes in 2009, 22 in 2008 and 28 in 2007, including one fatal accident.
The new interchange would save lives, officials say, and turn a gridlocked intersection into one that about 70,000 motorists can drive each day without pause. The plan includes removing what will be the last traffic signal left on Hwy. 169 between Champlin and Shakopee.
In the near term, east-west traffic on County Road 30 is expected to ease next year with the completion of the Hwy. 610 extension to County Road 81, just to the north, and when work is done on the Devil's Triangle interchange of Hwy. 169, County Road 81 and 85th Avenue, about a mile to the south.
But the relief will be temporary, said Brooklyn Park traffic engineer Jeff Holstein.
"There's a lot of development that has yet to occur north of 93rd Avenue," he said, adding that the changes could generate an additional 20,000 trips a day. "Eventually it's going to happen. We had a very sustained period of prosperity, and this recession might last another five years. But when we do projections, we're looking out 20 years."
The city's population is projected to grow by about 12,000 by 2030, to 89,000 people, who will need homes, jobs and amenities. That growth is expected to transform what is now rolling farm fields in the city's northwestern corner.
City officials have to keep the long view in mind, they said, even though there's not much development happening right now.
"It's unfortunate in my mind that they're located exactly where they are," Mayor Steve Lampi said of the Fischbachs. "It's just an area that's going to be redeveloped. ... I don't think it comes as a shock to anybody. Like everything in life, you see it looming out there, but it's not real until it's real."
Bracing for change
That's small consolation to Johnson. She would much rather see County Road 30 dead-end at Hwy. 169 or continue with a simple overpass. Beyond her own loss, she said, the city doesn't appreciate the loss to the community if the farm is plowed under.
"The people want us to be there; they want to see the cornfields," she said. "I don't think the people are being represented in this. How many more McDonald's do they really need?"
Nellie Fischbach, who has seen County Road 30 transform from a cow path to a thoroughfare, said she'll deal with the changes when they come.
"When you're 90 years old," she said, "you've got to go with the flow. So I do."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409