City council wants road to go south
By Heather J. Carlson
CLAREMONT – A proposal to move U.S. 14 south of the city as part of an expansion plan won unanimous support Monday from city officials.
The Claremont City Council voted 4-0 in favor of the route that would run along 630th Street — the city’s southern border — with an interchange at Dodge County Road 3. Meanwhile, city officials voiced strong opposition to another proposed route that also runs south of the city along the railroad tracks. City leaders argue that plan would cut off the new Oakview housing subdivision from downtown and hurt the city’s economic development efforts.
That proposal "dissects the town, it consumes a lot of our development land and it would create a challenging time in the future for us to be able to develop the southern part of town," city administrator Bill Goldy told the council.
With rising traffic levels and safety concerns, plans have long been under way to expand U.S. 14 to a four-lane road between Owatonna and Dodge Center. From 2000 to 2005, there were nearly 200 crashes along the 19-mile stretch, including nine fatal crashes, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. A southern bypass is expected to cost up to $150 million compared to up to $168 million for the current U.S. 14 alignment.
Initially, plans had called for U.S. 14 to stay along it’s current route. That remains an option. Under one possible route, U.S. 14 would be expanded at the existing location with an interchange at Dodge County Road 1. A third possibility includes not expanding the highway at all – something city officials say is not a viable option.
The far southern route would affect more residences and farms. The state would need to acquire six properties, compared to four with the railroad route. The city’s preferred route would also split three additional farm fields.
But there are other advantages to a southern bypass, according to Goldy. It means the interstate would pass closer to downtown, giving the city more visibility for business. In addition, the existing U.S. 14 route would stay open, providing a second major route into town for travelers.
MnDot is accepting comments on the U.S. 14 draft Environment Impact Statement until Monday. The agency then expects to complete a final EIS. But that does not mean construction crews will be at work anytime soon. MnDOT spokeswoman Kristine Hernandez said there is currently no funding for the project.
Mayor-elect Ginny Busch is among the residents living in the Oakview subdivision that would be affected by a southern bypass. The railroad route would divide the homes from downtown, and the far southern route would put the quiet subdivision along the bustling road. While she said she would personally prefer to see U.S. 14 stay on its current route, she said the southern bypass "probably makes the most sense."