Pine City’s business loop ready to be experienced by I-35 motorists

The newly-installed I-35 Business Loop signs direct motorists how to "loop" through town, and through the heart of Pine City.

The newly-installed I-35 Business Loop signs direct motorists how to “loop” through town, and through the heart of Pine City.

Once upon a time, 50-some-odd years ago, city folk traveling northbound to their cabins passed directly through Pine City on Old Highway 61.  Then Interstate 35 came, authorized in 1956, which primarily replaced the old highway for most travelers looking to get to their destinations more efficiently.  That meant less opportunity for businesses along Main Street in Pine City …Until now.

A route has been established through the corporate limits of Pine City, called a “business loop”, that provides the traveling public an opportunity to travel through the city, passing through the central business district once again.

After much community interest, in July of 2010 City Staff inquired about how to get an official business loop through the city and downtown to and from the nearby interstate interchanges.

The idea was that Pine City’s downtown, about 1.5 miles off of each of the two nearby interchanges—north and south—would capture some of the 25,000-plus vehicles per day that travel by on I-35.

“At first when the freeway bypassed Sixty-One, our community’s main thoroughfare, we only had one exit, so we couldn’t have had a business loop,” explained Nathan Johnson, city planner.  “We have had the opportunity ever since we established our second exit at County Road 11.”

Sept. 18, 2012, the Pine County Board approved having their roads through Pine City designated as such.  And, just last week, the business loop became a reality, with signage added paid for in part by the Pine City Economic Development Authority, Minnesota Department of Transportation and Pine County.  The Pine City Area Chamber of Commerce will be asked to contribute at its Oct. 1 meeting.

Prior to Pine City’s loop opening, there were just five Minnesota communities with such routes, Albert Lea, Austin, Moorhead, Worthington, and most-recently Faribault, which added its loop in 2006.

“I looked at Faribault’s trunk highway volumes on the roads designated as part of the loop (60 and 21) and noticed considerable increases in traffic after the loop designation,” said Johnson, who hoped to see similar results in Pine City.

“Faribault’s case was a bit different than ours,” Johnson said.  “In the first years of I-35, for approximately 25 years, the freeway actually went through their town and travelers had to deal with several stoplights.  Then, in 1975, the highway went around Faribault where today a motorist has three exit choices for the southern Minnesota town, or to take the business loop through town.”

AASHTO approves and denies such loops.  The loop they approved in Pine City begins at the intersection of I-35 and County State Aid Highway 7 (Hillside Avenue SW at Exit 169) to the intersection with County State Aid Highway 61 (Main Street) and then north along County State Aid Highway 61, parallel to I-35, to the intersection with County State Aid Highway 11 (Henriette Road NW).

Then the business route extends westerly along County State Aid Highway 11 and terminates at the intersection of I-35 and County State Aid Highway 11 (Exit 171).  The route travels south to north through the business district of Pine City, a distance of approximately 3 miles.

“The two loops on I-35 are adequately spaced for people traveling Minnesota, from bottom to top, looking for an easy-off, easy-back-on with some amenities,” Johnson said.  “Faribault serves motorists well between Albert Lea and the Twin

Cities, and Pine City serves them well between the Cities and Duluth.”

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