Citizens testify for Highway 14 project funding

House panel holds field hearing in Mankato

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Onie Reinarts of New Ulm, who’s son, Michael Reinarts was killed in an accident on Highway 14 last April, tells legislators from the House Transportation Finance Committee about the pain of her family’s loss at a field hearing in Mankato on Friday. The hearing took testimony in regard to Senate File 703/House File 538, which would provide $85 million in trunk highway bonds to expand Highway 14 from Nicollet to New Ulm.

MANKATO — About 100 people attended a public hearing on the New Ulm to Nicollet Highway 14 four-lane expansion project before the Minnesota House of Representative’s Transportation Finance & Policy Committee in the Mankato City Council Chambers Friday.

Rep. Paul Torkelson, a Republican from Hanska, is a member of the committee.

The two-lane highway that would be expanded two four lanes for 12.5 miles between New Ulm and Nicollet if Senate File 703/House File 538 are approved to provide $85 million in trunk highway bonds this year.

Several dozen people testified with emotion at times. First responders described crashes they were called to.

Onie Reinarts of New Ulm, talked about the pain of losing her son to a crash on Highway 14 near Courtland last April and having to explain it to her grandchildren.

Staff photo by Fritz Busch New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman (right) makes an emphatic point at the House panel field hearing in Mankato Friday. At left is Rep. Jeff Brand, D-St. Peter, one of the authors of H.F. 538.

Perhaps House bill author Jeff Brand, D-St. Peter put it best.

“A Courtland firefighter told me he was tired of pulling dead people from wrecks,” Brand testified. “The project involves different emotions and feelings for people. It’s of significant importance to the region.”

“It’s a highway to hell. But it goes to the greatest medical facility in the world (Mayo Clinic in Rochester). I’m still paying for my $65,000 medical bill,” said David Zimmerman, who was involved in a crash when a car broadsided his motorcycle years ago.

“I was in the hospital for eight months. There were six operations on my right leg. A doctor who served in the Vietnam War operated on my right wrist for six hours, putting it back together. He told me it looked like it was run over by a train before the surgery.” Zimmerman said. “Look at it now.”

Zimmerman displayed his dexterity, moving his thumb and four fingers on his right hand.

Jean Embacher of Nicollet said she was in a coma and received the last rites, but came out of the coma with severe traumatic brain injury.

“Anything you can do to support this bill will make things better,” said Nicollet County Sheriff Dave Lange.

Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich thanked the committee for a four-lane Highway 14 project linking Nicollet and North Mankato that was completed three years ago.

“We have not had any fatalities (on that stretch) since then. Support this bill and fund the project to New Ulm to make things safe,” Froehlich said.

“Safety is always the big talk,” said Courtland Mayor Al Poehler, “Get the traffic away from (Courtland) residences. People try passing people on the highway in Courtland. We need gateways and interchanges for safety.”

Nicollet County Commissioner and rural Courtland resident John Luepke said lots of corn and soybeans are hauled on Highway 14, to the largest soybean processing plant in North America (in Mankato).

“Hopefully this gets done in two years,” Luepke said.

Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School Principal Tim Plath said Highway 14 is important to students, parents and family members.

“I ask you to do everything in your power to expand this highway to four lanes,” Plath said.

New Ulm Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Audra Shaneman said 6,000 people commute to New Ulm daily and 1,000 trucks are dispatched from New Ulm daily.

“New Ulm is experiencing economic growth. The people that commute here daily are vital to our community,” Shaneman said.

“Why wait for 2020? Let’s get this done now. You’ve got lots of support from many hard-working people,” said New Ulm Mayor Bob Beussman.

New Ulm First Ward City Councilman David H. Christian said people have waited 50 years for the Highway 14 project.

“It’s time to get it done,” Christian said.

New Ulm Police Chief Dave Borchert said he has responded to many fatal and serious injury crashes at the Y (Highway 14&15 intersection) east of New Ulm that included some of his neighbors.

Greater Mankato Growth called Highway 14 the most densely-populated highway corridor in Minnesota without a continuous four-lane connection that serves 349,000 people over 112 miles.

The U.S. Highway 14 Partnership called the remaining two-lane portions of highway some of the most dangerous roads in the state with far higher rates of fatal or debilitating crashes than other Minnesota highways.

According to a 2012 Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) report, the percentage of severe and fatal crashes are nearly three times higher on two-lane portions of Highway 14 than on similar two-lane roads and expressways.

Also at the hearing, Lisa Black of rural Gibbon talked about county rural transit programs working across county lines. She submitted a resolution to fund inter-county rural transit.

Bonnie Dinsmore of Lafayette discussed a similar need so she could get a ride to New Ulm to shop.

“I want to live in my home as long as I can,” Dinsmore said.