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With Hwy. 3 closed, Biscayne gets busy

Before Highway 3 closed in July for construction of a new roundabout, the Empire Township Board of Supervisors figured Biscayne Avenue could become an alternate north-south route for drivers unwilling to go across to Pilot Knob Road. And so it has.

"We kind of knew in the back of our heads that it would happen," said board chairman Terry Holmes. "We planned on it. Knowing it's not an official alternate route, but that more people would use it, we really did try to get it up to a nice standard."

Biscayne Avenue runs parallel to Highway 3 to the east. For many who are used to using Highway 3 to get to Farmington or other points south, it is a shorter, faster route than the official detour on Pilot Knob Road. The only real catch with Biscayne Avenue is that it is a gravel road.

The township board understood the likely increase in traffic would bring more wear and tear to the road, as well as create more dust for residents along Biscayne. The board allocated $50,000 for lime rock prior to the closing of Highway 3 to even out the terrain, then waited for rain to help control the dust.

"We've tried hard to keep doing maintenance on the road so it won't create dust, and we're trying to maintain it so it stays level. Also, having the security from the sheriff's department out there helps," Holmes said.

Since the highway has been closed, the Dakota County Sheriff's Department has increased its presence on Biscayne at the request of the township board. Most drivers take the gravel road at 40 to 45 miles per hour, but having county squads visible helps, Holmes said.

Holmes suspects most of the drivers on Biscayne Avenue are from the area and many understand Biscayne travels through an area that is predominantly rural. Still, he cautions drivers not to forget that once in a while, farming implements will affect traffic flow. Not too long ago, he said, he was "about number 17 of 20 or so" vehicles slowed by a hay baler traveling the road. When the hay baler driver could, he pulled over to let the traffic go by.

"Most of the people who are out there seem to be local people. They understand. They're respectful of speed and those types of slow moving vehicles," Holmes said. "It's a give and take. We live in a rural community. That's our thing out here."

A future route

Somewhere down the road, so to speak, Biscayne Avenue will likely become a permanent, paved north-south corridor connecting Rosemount to locations as far south as County Road 86 in Castle Rock. When that will happen is still unclear, but Empire representatives are meeting with Dakota County, Rosemount and Farmington officials to look at that possibility, Holmes said.

"We want to find out how important Biscayne will be in the future. We're pressuring (Dakota County) to look at Biscayne as an alternate north/south route and take some pressure off of Highway 3," he said.

Although there has been increased traffic on Biscayne Avenue lately, no traffic counts are being taken at this time, because the current use will likely change once Highway 3 is open again. That's what happened a few years back, when the intersection of County Road 66 and Highway 3 was closed for construction of a bridge over the Vermillion, and Holmes suspects the same will happen once the roundabout is completed.

170th Street

For the first few weeks after Highway 3 was closed, a few drivers used the one-mile section of 170th Street between the highway and Biscayne Avenue to cut across to the east or west, rather than using the east-west corridor of 160th Street/County Road 46 for access. A few weeks ago, though, that option came to an end.

The one-mile section of 170th Street is now closed so it can be paved. It was once owned by Dakota County, but was turned back to the township three or four years ago, Holmes said. As part of that agreement with Empire township, the county agreed to pave that section of 170th Street.

Township officials have been told the paving will take about a month to complete. Highway 3 is expected to open again later this month.