As a Realtor, Jessica Olson knows better than to guarantee to clients which parts of the Twin Cities metro area will increase in value in the near future.

But last year, even though it meant a much longer commute, she moved from Eden Prairie to the tiny of town Carver because of the economic opportunities she sees coming.

"It was a no-brainer," said Olson, who like many people in Carver County is counting on the new Hwy. 212 to drive up property values and business opportunities in the area.

The $238 million project, more than 50 years in the making, will be celebrated at a grand opening today at 12:30 p.m. on the highway itself, between Hwy. 41 in Chaska and the existing Hwy. 212 in Carver. The main road is scheduled to fully open in two weeks and connect up with its final link, Hwy. 147, by mid-August.

"The Carver/Chaska area will see some growth after 212 is complete," Olson said. "That portion of the [Twin] Cities had such poor access previously that it made it a hassle to commute ... Now that the new freeway is almost complete, I anticipate many people considering Carver and beyond as a place for their home."

The new road, which covers 11.8 miles between Eden Prairie and Carver, is expected to handle about 50,000 vehicle trips a day, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

The project has required 1,200 workers who have moved more than 10 million cubic yards of dirt, MnDOT said.

And they have completed the work months ahead of schedule.

"This has been such a long time in the making," MnDOT spokesman Kevin Walker said Monday, and "there is such a need for it."

Ripple effect

Business and political leaders in and around Carver said the freeway will change the landscape of their communities in a variety of ways. Outlying towns and cities such as Carver, Cologne and Waconia will be much more attractive because commuting times will be reduced by 15 to 20 minutes.

"This is going to be a great opportunity for our businesses," said Deb McMillan, president of the Chaska Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is going to put us 20 minutes closer to the Twin Cities."

The need for a new freeway between the Twin Cities and Chaska has been the topic of serious discussion between the state and Carver County leaders since the late 1940s.

"My father had a garage, and in the '50s, '60s and '70s they were always talking about it," said Chaska Mayor Gary Van Eyll. "They just couldn't agree on where it should go."

Also, funding was difficult to obtain. So it was not until four years ago that funding was made available by the state Legislature.

Who will benefit

Among the greatest beneficiaries of the freeway will be Carver, a historic river town of 2,800 people that expects its population to grow 600 percent or more by 2030.

City leaders said much of that growth will be spurred on by the new highway.

"It's been a long time coming, and we're happy to see it," said Jim Elmquist, Carver's city administrator. "The economic benefits will come. It's just a matter of when. The developers seem to be much more interested ... because they know the highway is coming."

Another beneficiary is Chaska, which has several large developments already popping up on or near the highway.

Among them are a planned bio-technology business park and a new college campus designed to attract commuting students and satellite learning.

"I think those are directly affected by the new highway," said Carver County Administrator Dave Hemze, who expects the county population to double to 180,000 by 2030. "It definitely will have an impact on our growth."

Van Eyll, who will be among the speakers at the grand opening today, said he expects the freeway will help his city grow to about 35,000 residents and add another 10.000 jobs by 2020.

"We might have gotten there without it, but having the freeway here is going to make it a lot faster," Van Eyll said Monday. "This is going to greatly improve our quality of life.

"One gentleman told me, 'You know Gary, this will give me an extra year of time with my family just because I don't have to spend it on the road.'"

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280