Bills to fund Highway 14 introduced

This MnDOT map shows the proposed Nicollet to New Ulm expansion route.

ST. PAUL — Highway 14 advocates are hopeful that legislation introduced Thursday at the Minnesota Legislature will finally fund a long-awaited project that aims to improve a stretch of Highway 14 that has long been plagued by dangerous crashes and impeded economic growth.

The bill, SF 703/HF 538, authored by Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) and Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter), provides $85 million in state trunk highway bonding funds to expand the 12-mile segment of Highway 14 between Nicollet and New Ulm from two lanes to four.

The proposal has bi-partisan support from legislators along the Highway 14 corridor, according to the U.S. Hwy. 14 Partnership.

Project plans include interchanges at Highway 14/CSAH 37 (New Ulm south access) and Highway 14/CSAH 24 (north of Courtland, centered on town), according to Minnesota Department of Transportation District 7 Project Engineer Zach Tess of Mankato.

Constrained intersections at Minnesota Valley Lutheran (MVL) High School, New Ulm Quartzite Quarries, Inc. and for Jeremy and Kohn Drive have RCUTS (J-turns), similar to J-turns along U.S. Why 169 north of St. Peter.

Tess said the J-turns are needed to limit impacts to softball fields and homes near Highway 14.

Tess said Nicollet County commissioners approved a project resolution Sept. 25 and expressed interest in paying 25 percent of interchange costs near New Ulm and Courtland, estimated at $3 million for both structures.

In addition, Tess said the New Ulm City Council approved the project Nov. 6 and the Courtland City Council approved it Nov. 1.

New Ulm Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Audra Shaneman said the Highway 14 Partnership Board got lots of legislative partners to get project funding.

“It’s good they’re doing this early in the session. Clearly, legislative funding is a hot button issue,” Shaneman said. “This is a big project in our back yard that would create lots of economic development. Transportation funding is high on this (legislative) administrative agenda.”

Tess said the Highway 14 expansion project, if approved, would likely be a two-year project beginning in 2021, considering the number of bridges, bypasses, local access and soil investigation needed.

If the four-lane expansion project is not approved by the legislature, Tess said a Highway 14 preservation project with pavement mill and overlay would likely be done in 2021.

Tess said that project is part of MnDOT’s four-year program with 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent state funding.

New Ulm Mayor Bob Beussman said he can’t believe all the trucks in and out of New Ulm on two lanes now.

“We’ve been working on this project for decades,” Beussman said. “I’m hoping the governor (Tim Walz) is behind this one too. Get ‘er done and move on to something else.”

“We are lucky to have a great team of legislators who are committed to the shared goal of improving Highway 14,” said Karen Foreman, president of the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership and a member of the Mankato City Council. “We are especially grateful to Sen. Dahms, Rep. Brand, and the bi-partisan group of legislators who signed onto this important legislation. I look forward to working with them to make sure this project becomes a reality.”

For members of the Highway 14 Partnership, who have worked for decades to expand Highway 14 to four lanes from New Ulm to Rochester, the Nicollet-to-New Ulm project is the final segment that remains unscheduled and unfunded. Significant progress has been made in recent years, including in 2018 when the Legislature passed $400 million in trunk highway bonds for the state’s Corridors of Commerce program, including $160 million to complete a 12-mile segment between Owatonna and Dodge Center. The Highway 14 Partnership is working with the state to ensure that construction on that project can begin as soon as possible.

“Having four lanes all the way from Rochester to New Ulm is vital to unleashing the economic potential of southern Minnesota,” Foreman said. “While we are happy that progress has been made over the last few years, there is still more work to do to ensure Highway 14 is able to adequately serve businesses and communities across our region.”

Rep. Brand, who introduced the bill in the House, noted that safety concerns play a major role in the need to have consistent four-lane access along Highway 14.

“Highway 14, from Nicollet to New Ulm, is the most dangerous stretch of highway in Greater Minnesota,” Rep. Brand said. “Completion of this project has been a long time coming and I’m proud to lead on this bill in the House.”

Sen. Dahms, chief author of the Senate version of the bill, added, “Families that live along this corridor deserve to be able to get to work or school safely, and businesses deserve an efficient transportation network that helps them get their products to market. In fact, as communities like New Ulm continue to grow, a four-lane road connection across southern Minnesota communities is absolutely essential to the future success of the local economy. I look forward to working with the tireless local advocates who have worked to make Highway 14 expansion a reality. It’s time to get the job done.”

The U.S. Highway 14 Partnership is an advocacy organization supporting the four-lane expansion of Highway 14. Formed in 1998, the Highway 14 Partnership includes local governments, private businesses and other organizations across southern Minnesota. Follow the U.S. Highway 14 online at ushighway14.com on Twitter at @Hwy14Pshp.

For more information, visit http:www/dot.state.mn.us/d7/projects/14newulmtomankato/

fbusch@nujournal.com

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