MANKATO - Several dozen people attended an open house Monday regarding the Statewide Multi-modal Transportation plan at the Minnesota State Highway Department (MnDOT) building in Mankato.
The plan will provide guidance and establish priorities for making state transportation decisions across all modes - including roads, railroads, bike trails, and beyond.
Mark Nelson, MnDOT Multi-modal Planner, said the plan will lead to federal highway appropriations and MnDOT's 20-year Highway Investment Program.
A slow economy isn't helping.
"Gas taxes have flattened out in recent years, largely due to the recession," Nelson said. "It means we need more help from partners."
The highway department recently announced that a 338-page FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) for the U.S. Highway 14 four-lane expansion project between New Ulm and North Mankato has been reviewed by MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. The project is not on the highway department's current 20-year plan list.
Right now, the only funded part of the project is the Highway 14 bridge over the Minnesota River at New Ulm in 2018.
Meanwhile, local and area government units are writing letters to Gov. Mark Dayton and other officials, asking for the project to get higher priority.
The highway department is conducting an RSA (Road Safety Audit) for the portion of Highway 14 between New Ulm and North Mankato. The goal of the RSA is to improve road safety with a comprehensive review by an independent interdisciplinary team that reviews crash history and considers all factors that may contribute to crashes.
The audit will identify low-cost, proactive safety improvements that could be implemented now and in the next few years.
The highway department's preferred project route is using existing highway alignment except for bypasses north of Courtland and just south of Nicollet.
Building a new four-lane on top of the Minnesota River bluffs would be much more costly and cause more significant farmland impacts, according to MnDOT.
According to MnDOT's Highway 14 Final EIS (Environmental Impact Study):
Crash rates at the highway's most heavily-used intersections exceed state averages. The intersection of Highway 14, Minnesota 15 and County Road 21 (commonly known as the "Y") is the biggest concern with a long history of fatalities and severe injury crashes. Intersections with County Road 37, Minnesota 99 and Minnesota 111/Country Road 23 are other crash problem spots.
Lack of passing zones result in driver's taking risks to pass in limited spaces. That leads to more crashes, including head-on and sideswipe crashes that accounted for 22 percent of crashes from 2007 to 2009.
A forecasted traffic congestion increase for the highway corridor results from high traffic volumes, a high percentage of trucks, and lack of passing opportunities.
Parts of Highway14 now operate below 55 mph, which is MnDOT's Interregional Corridor average speed performance target. This is partially due to speed limits of 35 mph in Courtland and 50 mph in Nicollet.
Without a four-lane project, most of the highway corridor is expected to operate below 55 mph by 2025.
Increasing traffic, including through-town trucks, will have an increasing adverse impact on the growing communities of Courtland and Nicollet.
Multiple intersections are at high risk for requiring traffic signals, which would further reduce average speed.
Skewed sight lines at many intersections increase the risk of entering vehicles' drivers failing to see oncoming traffic.
Lack of left-turn lanes at many intersections require turning vehicles to wait in the through lane, increasing crash risk and limiting mainline speeds.
The large number of highway accesses per mile may be partially responsible for the greater-than-average crash rates.
The current Minnesota River bridge at New Ulm is two lanes, rated structuring deficient, functionally obsolete, and will be more than 50 years old by the time highway improvements are made.
Because the highway on both ends of the bridge will be four lanes, not expanding the bridge would create a bottleneck effect at both ends.
Comments on the FEIS can be submitted until March 12. Visit www.dot.state.mn.us/d7/projects/14newulmtomankato/.
Public hearings and Minnesota GO (50-year Statewide Multi-modal Transportation Plan) adoption are set for April and May 2012.
For more information, visit www.minnesotagoplan.org
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).