NICOLLET - More than 150 people attended a community meeting about the Highway 14-111 interchange Wednesday in the Nicollet Fire Hall.
The meeting was prompted by an groundswell of public and government response after a Dec. 16, 2013 meet hosted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) in Nicollet Public School in which MnDOT engineers advocated building a Reduced Conflict Intersection (RCUT) interchange.
The Nicollet City Council and Nicollet County Commission immediately unanimously opposed the plan, favoring a more expensive interchange with a bridge over Highway 14 for better safety.
Graphic courtesy of MnDOT?
The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to build a new interchange at the junction of Highways 14 and 111 in 2015 and 2016 that will include two ‘teardrop’ roundabouts just north and south of the new four-lane Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato.
Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich said he received a letter from Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday in which Dayton stated he was committed to getting a better interchange built in Nicollet.
Engineers at MnDOT felt the heat too.
"We heard you at the Dec. 16 meeting and received many online petition signatures voicing your opinion against the RCUT since then," MnDOT Project Engineer Zach Tess said. "We're working on ways to reduce costs. We'll start meeting with city and county officials about this project on (Monday) Feb. 10. Bridges cost a lot, but I think we're close to making this happen."
Tess said MnDOT's latest Nicollet interchange proposal would include a Highway 111 bridge and two "teardrop" (small, oblong) roundabouts, just north and south of the new four-lane Highway 14 project. Construction would take place in 2015 and 2016.
A retired Nicollet firefighter who was called to many accidents on Highway 14, Froehlich said every fire department wants to save people.
He introduced Jeannie Embacher, who nearly died and suffered a traumatic brain injury in a Highway 14 car-truck accident on April 16, 1988. "By the grace of God, she's here tonight," Froehlich said. "We're 20 minutes from emergency medical service out here, so we all took First Responder training."
"If Fred and the fire department hadn't answered the call that day, I wouldn't have made it," Embacher said. "I don't want to see any more serious accidents and injuries on Highway 14."
Rep. Clark Johnson, D-North Mankato, said it was great to see the community respond to the issue. "You've spoken very clearly that you want and need a good, safe highway. This is the way democracy is supposed to work. Thank you to MnDOT, Gov. Dayton, everyone here and others that signed the petition. It's an example of good government and the people working together to build a strong community."
Nicollet Fire Department President Chris Shay said his department answers more than 100 calls a year including 31 serious accidents on Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato since 2009.
A funeral director talked about the need to control traffic better on Highway 14 and at the Highway 111 intersection.
"It's a safety issue for sure," said Nicollet Public School Supt. Jack Eustice.
Nicollet farmers Brent and Bryce Krohn talked about the semi traffic and farm equipment including 9-ton anhydrous tanks on highways 14 and 111. A Powerpoint presentation stated that rural accident fatalities rates are double those on urban roads. "Safety doesn't cost, it pays," read the presentation.
Troy Hewitt of Hewitt Roll-A-Dock, a large Nicollet industry near Highway 14, said nobody should have to put up with unsafe highways. "This project better happen, or I'll come back and be a pain again," he said.
Froehlich said the City of Nicollet and Nicollet Chamber of Commerce belong to the Highway 14 Partnership, a lobbying organization created to improve the highway. "It's (lobbying) money well spent," Froehlich said. "I know what it takes to get involved as the grassroots level and everyone here is doing that. Thank you. I think we're going to see this happen. I really do.
For more information, visit nicollet.org/home/
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).