It’s been a long haul to make Hwy. 610 a longer road. Now, more than 25 years after the first leg of the north metro highway opened, the last link to Interstate 94 at Maple Grove is on the horizon.

It’s only 2.6 miles long, but the project, scheduled to begin next fall, promises to take pressure off the parallel I-94 to I-694 artery that carries about 115,000 vehicles a day. City officials also hail it as critical to business development in the area.

“We are already getting calls about it,” said Ken Streeter, who owns a commercial real estate company in Brooklyn Park. He said he has heard from industrial, retail and residential businesses interested in locating in the area.

However, after the decades of work to get 610 done, he said, “I think they will have to see a shovel in the ground before we see immediate action. … It is really a necessary connection.”

When the extension is completed in late 2016, the north metro’s “Crosstown” highway will run more than 18 miles from I-94 in the west to I-35W at Shoreview in the east. It will be able to carry 50,000 vehicles a day.

Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced last month that the project would receive up to $120 million under the state’s new $300 million “Corridors of Commerce” bonding program, said John Griffith, west area manager for MnDOT.

The agency expects to choose a construction contractor in August and break ground in October, said Griffith, who oversees the work.

While local officials applauded the new $120 million allotment, they noted that it will not cover such things as a flyover ramp to eastbound I-94. Griffith said another $55 million to $75 million will be needed to complete the flyover, other ramps and a new bridge over I-94 at 105th Avenue. Until that work is completed, eastbound motorists will have to exit at the Maple Grove Parkway and take city streets to the 95th Avenue Interchange.

“I hope the state will step up to the plate to finish the project,” said Maple Grove Mayor Mark Steffenson.

Long lobbying effort

Al Madsen, Maple Grove’s city manager, said north metro officials and legislators have been lobbying for 610’s construction throughout his three decades with the city.

Steffenson and Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde have made annual treks to Washington, D.C., the past few years to lobby members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation and others sitting on transportation committees. But federal funds have mostly dried up after the long-standing practice of “earmarking” money for projects ended a few years ago, Steffenson said.

The North Metro Crossing Coalition, which includes area cities, businesses and chambers of commerce, paid for the two mayors’ trip, said Lunde. “We have been very persistent in providing the why” for the final leg, he said. “It’s been on top of our legislative platform for a number of years for the city and the coalition.”

Griffith said MnDOT is confident it will have enough money in the state trunk highway fund and other sources to finish the 610 project after the last leg is done. “We feel we are able to move forward and not worry about running out of money,” he said. He also said the Corridor funding in effect moved the 610 project up about 4 ½ years in MnDOT’s road construction program.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she has helped obtain about $2.5 million in 610 earmark funds since 2007. “The Hwy 610 project is critical to keeping our transportation system strong, and I will continue to push for funding to ensure its completion,” she said by e-mail.

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said area legislators from both parties had cooperated for more than 20 years in co-authoring bills seeking 610 funding. “I started only maybe 25 years ago,” he said, chuckling. “610 has been the bane of all of our existences. We are delighted to have major movement in the right direction,” he said. “It looks like we are almost getting the final leg complete.”

Even without the flyover ramp, the completed 610 will be a boon to attract business and housing, local officials said.

“We are very excited to have the road finally completed,” Steffenson said. “We look forward to tremendous job opportunities along the corridor.”

Completion of the final leg will help Brooklyn Park attract more businesses to its 610 stretch, said City Manager Jamie Verbrugge. In the past year, three big firms — Baxter International, Olympus Surgical and Target — have announced plans to expand or move into sites along 610.

“We are starting to see a lot of movement on 610,” Verbrugge said. “The transportation system is one of the things that companies look at, especially if they have warehousing or distribution needs and want ease of access for their workers.”

Commuters are looking at it, too. Mike Maureen, who lives in Rogers, usually takes I-94 to work in Minneapolis, where he monitors freeway traffic cameras and provides traffic updates during rush hours on KBEM radio. His backup route is County Road 81 to the existing 610 stretch. The new leg will get him on Hwy. 610 a lot faster.

“It will be unusually valuable to me as a commuter and to others,” Maureen said.