Highway 14 interchange planning starts as median closure eyed at County Road 44
Group of area residents join discussion to cite concerns and desire to see safety addressed.
ROCHESTER — Mike Wolter is willing to reroute his drive home from Rochester, if it means improving safety on U.S. Highway 14.
“Two or three times a day I have to maneuver through it,” he said of the intersection of Highway 14 and County Road 44 between Rochester and Byron.
Potential changes to the intersection, which has been deemed unsafe by state and county officials, have been discussed since Wolter moved into his home on the southside of the four-lane highway in 1991. He said he was told at the time there was a 25-year plan to improve the intersection.
“Thirty years later, we’re still on the 25-year plan,” he said.
Wolter joined a group of approximately 60 residents Thursday evening at Rochester Montessori School to hear what is actually being done to address concerns related to the intersection.
SRF Consulting Project Director David Nelson outlined the early stages of planning efforts for a new potential interchange.
“There’s been a little bit of momentum here,” he said, noting Thursday was considered a kickoff for the planning effort.
He said the goal was to solicit input to generate concepts for the intersection.
While Olmsted County outlined a proposed interchange in 2008 with bridges and realigned crossings, Nelson said the plan is to use the original proposal as a starting point and develop options over the summer, which would be required to seek federal funding.
Olmsted County commissioners have vowed to cover half the estimated $45 million for the project, if the state funds the other half, but anticipated funding didn’t get approved this year.
Olmsted County Public Works Director Ben Johnson said aligning the project with federal guidelines will provide funding flexibility.
SRF was hired with 2020 state funding approved to begin the planning process,
Nelson said concepts for the proposed interchange are expected to be ready for public review in the fall, with potential final designs created next year. It would allow construction to start as early as 2024.
Steve Comisky, who’s lived near the intersection for 16 years, voiced skepticism about the timeline.
“We’re not going forward until we see the money,” he said.
Some in the crowd gathered Thursday evening voiced concern about a Minnesota Department of Transportation plan to close the median at Highway 14 and County Road 44 until construction starts.
“We’re working on a plan right now to implement this summer,” MnDOT project management administrative engineer Tony Wagner said of the median closure. .
He said it would be a safety improvement until an interchange could be constructed.
“It’s not an ideal solution,” he said of the closure. “It’s a short-term solution to change lives.”
Comisky said it’s one he can live with, but the uncertainty is troubling.
“The idea of just closing it without a funded plan seems interestingly nearsighted,” he said, adding that he understands something must be done.
The median closure means drivers will be able to enter and exit from County Road 44 using right turns, but it will eliminate the option to turn left to enter or exit the highway.
Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier said it’s likely to drive more traffic to Rochester’s West Circle Drive or County Road 3, east of Byron. Both were cited as problematic by some residents Thursday.
“There aren’t really any good options,” Bier said.
Wolter and Comisky agreed, but said status quo isn’t working after seeing accidents become a regular sight where County Road 44 crosses Highway 14.
“It’s a hassle for me, but I’m all for safety,” Wolter said of the planned median closure.