Proposed Tunnel Would Connect Richfield to MSP Airport

Updated: 06/22/2015 4:31 PM

The city of Richfield is looking for light at the end of a new tunnel to the airport. Business and city leaders there are considering a plan to extend 77th Street either over or under Highway 77.

The concept of a tunnel has been driving through Richfield for two decades. Tim Carter, co-chair of the Economic Development Committee with the Richfield Chamber of Commerce, says it regained traction when the economy started picking up speed.

"When this thing starts to roll back and when the economy starts to come back, it's going to be of interest to somebody," Carter said.

The tunnel would connect Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to a portion of southeast Richfield near major highways and Mall of America. The land is currently home to a Motel 6, apartment buildings and offices.

"It's in one of the best locations, you just can't get to it easy, and so the tunnel answers all those questions," Carter said.

The project is expected to cost $25 million. The city will need about $2 million in engineering costs to get the project off the ground.

"We'd be looking for our regional partners to participate. So that would be MnDOT, the airport, possibly our neighbors, Bloomington," said John Stark, Director of Community Development for the City of Richfield.

For the tunnel to go in, the Motel 6 and a small housing building would have to go.

Carter sees more than a tunnel; he also pictures the southeast corner of Richfield reborn.

"You guys wouldn't have any of this open space here, you would see possibly hotels, you would possibly see a lot more restaurants of all levels, not just fast food, but sit-down, you would see possibly more entertainment come in here," Carter said.

"As 494 traffic continues to get more congested, as the airport continues to grow, as the Mall of America expands, I think it's something the area needs," Stark said.

Some funding for the tunnel may come from tax increment financing on the new developments. The city also plans to ask the legislature for money in its next bonding bill.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission tells KSTP that it "explored the option of building a tunnel between Richfield and the airport during the time when MnDOT was reconstructing the 66th Street interchange but found there would be no benefit to the airport or its users.

A project like this also presents issues in regards to spending airport monies on non-airport/aviation projects, something the Federal Aviation Administration refers to as revenue diversion. Airports must spend their capital improvement dollars only on projects that are deemed airport or aviation-related or risk losing federal grant monies, which we rely on to construct airfield and terminal infrastructure."

Representatives from the city of Bloomington tell KSTP, "Bloomington has been supportive of this project and has been happy to cost share with Richfield and MnDOT on street and interchange improvements that directly benefit Bloomington properties ... The 77th Street Bridge under TH77 connects land in Richfield and property owned by the Metropolitan Airports Commission. It would be logical for Richfield, MAC, MnDOT and perhaps the federal government to fund the 77th Street tunnel."