State and local officials will hold a party Wednesday that's been nearly 50 years in the planning: They'll be celebrating completion of a new stretch of Hwy. 610, heading west from Brooklyn Park into Maple Grove.

Plans from the 1960s called for 610 to connect U.S. Hwy. 10 in the north metro to Interstate Hwy. 94, a link intended to ease frustration for commuters and make the area more easily accessible. The newest extension brings the roadway 2.74 miles closer to the goal, and also has local officials seeing strong prospects for development.

That there's still work to be done -- another 2.6 miles to I-94 -- won't dampen the celebration, starting at 2 p.m. under the Zachary Lane Bridge. The new stretch will be open to traffic on Friday.

The 610 work comes on the heels of the $50 million unclogging of the nearby "devil's triangle'' through Brooklyn Park and Osseo, which fully opened last week. Those two projects follow last year's completion of the $288 million Crosstown Hwy. 62 interchange on the south side of the metro and come just ahead of a $125 million project underway to remove signals and redesign Hwy. 169's bottleneck interchange with Interstate 494 in Bloomington, Edina and Eden Prairie.

Development tool

There are no firm plans for how or when the final 2.6-mile leg of Hwy. 610 will be funded, or how it will connect to the interstate, said Kent Barnard, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Nevertheless, officials in Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove welcome the new extension as an important development tool.

"It certainly helps our community, and helps Brooklyn Park as well, and it's been a long time coming," said Maple Grove Mayor Mark Steffenson, noting that his friend, the late Brooklyn Park Mayor Steve Lampi, would have liked to see this day. Lampi died of cancer in February.

The new Brooklyn Park mayor, Jeff Lunde, said much of the open land on the north end of Brooklyn Park is primed for development, awaiting the completion of the highway and positive economic news.

Hwy. 610 splits off of Hwy. 10 in Coon Rapids, then crosses the Mississippi River into Brooklyn Park. That piece was completed in the mid-1980s. The newest stretch extends from Hwy. 169 west to Elm Creek Boulevard. Construction of this extension wasn't planned to even begin until 2014, said MnDOT's Barnard, but the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act revved up the process with a $48 million federal grant in 2009.

The highway will mean "people will drive through our city, and will have opportunities to look at living closer in," said Brooklyn Park's Lunde.

"There's lots of open land for investment. It will definitely help with companies looking for locations to put regional warehouses or regional offices."

Steffenson also noted that the new highway will help with access to the city's Fairview Hospital, just a little farther up on County Rd. 81.

Concerns for now

Both mayors said they're looking forward to the day when the road links up to I-94. Steffenson said County Rd. 81 going toward Rogers is already busy, and he's concerned about what will become of traffic after it reaches the end of the 610 extension that's opening Friday.

"[County Road 81 is] already a fairly busy road without this additional traffic, and now there will be a substantial increase in traffic," he said.

"The main concern right now that MnDOT needs to focus on is getting this road completed, because this will cause traffic and accident issues."

The 610 project isn't new to Brooklyn Park's new mayor. Lunde spent several years on the City Council and planning commission. He believes its completion will kick-start the city's push toward full development and a shift in thinking from development to redevelopment and embracing the city as it has evolved. It's a realization that he says does inspire a sense of nostalgia for the city's not-so-distant rural past, although he's only been there 15 years.

"It's also kind of that sense that the future is now."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409