We can’t kick the can any farther

In 1971, the State promised to expand Highway 14 across southern Minnesota. Forty-five years later, we are still waiting. During this wait, the communities from New Ulm to Rochester have grown into one of the most densely populated areas outside the metro with roughly 350,000 residents. The cost has grown from $200 million for 111 miles to $315 million for 24.5 miles.

The need for a safe, four-lane highway has not gone away. Our communities are growing rapidly. And over the next 20 years, traffic in the Highway 14 corridor is expected to increase 35 percent. If we don’t make improvements to our transportation network that accounts for this growth, our economic opportunities and quality of life will be threatened. Completing Highway 14 is a top priority. However, our regional economy needs improvement to other major roadways, like Highways 60 and 169.

As the debate over transportation funding continues in St. Paul, we think about the cost to us in southern Minnesota. The cost of an increase in the gas tax to the typical Minnesotan would be less than $2.00 per week about as much as a cup of coffee. At the same time, we can’t measure the cost to our region in lost economic development as Highway 14 remains unfinished. Nor can we count the human cost of accidents along this dangerous road. Since 2001, our communities have endured 59 fatalities and 47 serious injuries on Highway 14.

The time is ticking away at the Minnesota Legislature’s short session, and nothing is happening on a transportation funding compromise. We worry that a bill will be rushed through without time for public input. After decades of delay, lost economic opportunity and preventable fatalities, it’s time to take action. Legislators need to act now, to act together and to act wisely on transportation.

It appears the majority of the legislators have remained firm in their decision and positions, while building new roads and repairing our roads, bridges and highways continue to fall by the wayside and into the ditch.

Compromise is needed.

We encourage residents of southern Minnesota, from New Ulm to Rochester, to contact their legislators. Let’s make clear we need a long-term solution that invests in Corridors of Commerce, Highway 14, and our local roads. Let them know you can only kick the can so far, before you run out of road.