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'Dangerous' and 'horrific' intersection west of Rochester needs upgrade, county leaders tell legislators

'I dread the day that one more person gets killed.'

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Senators from the Minnesota Senate Bonding Committee, including Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, listen to Capt. Chris Wallace, left, with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, and Capt. Christina Bogojevic, with the Minnesota State Patrol, during a site visit to the County Road 104 and Trunk Highway 14 Interchange as part of the Senate Bonding Tour Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Rochester. Senators heard a presentation about a proposed redevelopment project for the intersection as part of the tour. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Joe Ahlquist

Area leaders pitched a $45 million interchange project at U.S. Highway 14 and County Road 104 to members of a state Senate Bonding Committee Thursday, saying the busy regional corridor west of Rochester will remain a hazard to drivers until it is upgraded.

"This is a very dangerous intersection," Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier told Senate committee members at Graham Park. "We need to get that fixed up and need to get grade separation."

The intersection is the site of 10 to 13 crashes a year and was where a former county commissioner, Jim Daley, died last year in a crash. The danger to drivers comes from several things, officials say. Traffic volumes approach 30,000 vehicles a day, with 7,000 people a day commuting to Rochester from Byron and Dodge Center.

County Road 104 also intersects U.S. 14 at a skewed angle, adding to the challenges drivers on the county road face as they search for gaps in the fast-moving traffic to either plunge through or join the flow.

State Sen. Dave Senjem, the committee's vice chair, said the corridor worked fine "in the olden days" when Rochester and Mayo Clinic weren't as big as they are today.

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"But now it's a horrific intersection," Senjem said. "If there is a car at the (intersection), I will slow down 45-50 miles a hour. You just can't trust anybody coming onto that highway. I dread the day that one more person gets killed."

Officials say construction of an interchange and an overpass at Seventh Street Northwest will eliminate two at-grade intersections and "64 conflict" points that drivers must navigate when "turning, crossing or traveling" on the roadways. Officials say the county is prepared to bond for the entirety of the $45 million project, but wants the state to repay half the costs.

The bonding committee was traveling through Rochester and surrounding communities to hear area higher education, city and county officials tout projects that would have statewide benefit. The committee will be start meeting in January to begin assembling a bonding bill, committee chairman Sen. Tom Bakk said. Bonding bills come to about $1 billion, but the value of projects pitched to the committee is many times that amount.

Area officials also sought support for other projects that included:

  • Rochester Community and Technical College is seeking a major renovation and modernization of interior spaces at the Heintz Center. The proposed improvements would affect a range of academic programs housed there. Officials are looking for support in two stages: $1.4 million in 2022 and $31.7 million in 2024. The project is ranked 19th out of 20 on Minnesota State Colleges and Universities list of projects.
  • Olmsted County is asking for $10 million in state bonding to construct a regional, multi-use exhibition center at Graham Park, which will replace the dairy barn and horse barn and become the primary event venue at the park. It will also pay for a new farmers market pavilion.
  • City officials also sought support for a downtown District Energy System that will heat and cool buildings at Rochester Civic Center, Rochester Public Library, City Hall and Rochester Civic Center. The city buildings impacted by the move currently rely on steam from Olmsted County to heat and cool them. The decision to move toward a District Energy System is prompted by the county's decision to terminate city building steam service from its Waste-to-Energy facility in 2023 due to frequent steam leaks and repairs. The city is seeking $10 million from the committee for the $18.4 million project.
  • Olmsted County is also seeking $12.5 million in state bonding to build a "Materials Recovery Facility." The facility will remove recoverable and noncombustible materials from the waste stream to be further processed. The collected materials, including glass and metals, will then be sold to end markets, officials say.
Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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