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Highway 14 overpass design efforts will take a couple years

Olmsted County commissioners continue to push state officials to put project in its 10-year plan

090120.N.RPB.Drone.Hwy14CoRd104.02.jpg
Drivers maneuver through the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and Olmsted County Road 44 west of Rochester on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin
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Don’t expect construction of an overpass at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and County Road 44 to start anytime soon.

The earliest construction date for a proposed interchange west of Rochester is likely in 2024.

Charlie Reiter, a planner for the Olmsted County Planning Department, said proposals from design consultants are being reviewed for the proposed overpass at County Road 44, with a potential contract ready for approval next month.

“It’s anticipated by the end of next year -- December 2022 or January 2023 -- that phase for the project development work should be completed,” he said.

RELATED: Rochester-Olmsted County officials call for commitment to new Highway 14 overpass

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Final design and required land acquisition is expected to take at least another year, he added.

While state lawmakers have approved $6 million for the planning process on the project with an anticipated $40 million price tag, Olmsted County officials continue to point to a lack of funding for construction.

“We believe this is a very critical need and very dangerous intersection,” Commissioner Ken Brown said Tuesday during a discussion with Minnesota Department of Transportation staff.

While local MnDOT staff have also cited safety concerns, the overpass project is not in the department’s 10-year plan because of a lack of dedicated funding for the large-scale project.

“These large projects have all come from special programs that the Legislature has set up to fund these types of projects,” said Mark Schoenfelder, the transportation district engineer for MnDOT’s Region 6.

Commissioners have noted it has been difficult to convince lawmakers of the importance of the project, since it’s not on the state department’s long-range plan.

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What is on the state plan is the construction of a modified intersection to reduce the potential for collisions where one vehicle strikes another at a 90-degree angle -- T-bone collisions. The change would bar northbound County Road 44 traffic from crossing Highway 14 and require southbound traffic to use a J-turn.

A J-turn requires drivers who want to cross a portion or all of a four-lane highway take a right turn with traffic and then make a U-turn down the road to either head in the desired direction or make another left turn to effectively cross the intersection.

The change would be part of a $1.4 million plan that also will close the crossing at Seventh Street Northwest and make more extensive changes at County Road 3.

Commissioner Mark Thein suggested forgoing the temporary change at County Road 44 and using the savings to help fund the state’s half of the overpass expense, but Schoenfelder said the savings would be minimal.

“The dollar amount isn’t as large as you think,” he said, noting the bulk of the expense is at County Road 3.

He said the only other option would be to close the crossing to prevent future collisions and fatalities. Among the victims fo the dangerous crossing is former county commissioner James Daley, who was in a fatal accident there last year.

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Thein said he doesn’t see closing the crossing as an option, since businesses and residents rely on access to the highway. He said keeping it as it is and working toward overpass construction as soon as possible is the best path.

“That’s my opinion,” he said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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