ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Department of Transportation's 20-Year State Highway Investment Plan, released by the department last week, has little good news for Highway 14 partisans. The document, in fact, gives Minnesota a grim assessment of the state of transportation.
The document includes no funding for the Highway 14 expansion project, which would widen the two-lane highway to four lanes all the way from Rochester to New Ulm. The plan indicates the state will have to focus its limited transportation funding on maintenance and preservation of existing highways, and won't have much money for those needs.
MnDOT is projecting the state will have around $18 million to invest in state highways over the next 20 years, but will have about $30 billion in needs.
About 50 percent of the state's highways are more than 50 years old, and 35 percent of the state's bridges are more than 50 years old, the report said.
The plan focuses on a limited number of new projects, highway improvements and mutli-modal transportation projects in the first ten years, and sticks to maintenance in the second ten years.
Despite its exclusion from the 20-year plan, which has been expected as MnDOT held meetings and presented preliminary drafts over the past year, the Highway 14 project has benefitted from the state's Corridors of Commerce program, a one-time $300 million transportation bonding program approved during this past year's legislative session. The bonding is intended for projects that boost economic development, and the Highway 14 partnership and New Ulm civic and commercial leaders lobbied heavily to have it included. The Highway 14 project received 45 million for projects extending the four-lane as far as Nicollet, and helped move the start date up to 2015.
The Highway 14 Partnership is focusing its efforts on getting annual funding approved for the Corridors of Commerce project.
"I'm happy that hwy 14 included on Corridors of Commerce program," said New Ulm Mayor Bob Beussman, who has worked closely with the Highway 14 Partnership. "I hope we can get more funding for it next year, and get MnDOT and the state on the same page for a full interchange on the Nicollet bypass."
At a recent public hearing in Nicollet DOT representatives talke about lower cost alternatives to a full interchange as Highway 14 goes past Nicollet. Highway 14 residents, however, are adamant that the safest alternative would be a full interchange, which would allow Highway 14 to continue on by without slowing or stopping traffic with a controlled intersection of some kind.