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Highway 14 safety projects split, with one moving forward and the other on hold

Minnesota Department of Transportation will install high-tension cables in the median between Byron and Rochester, but intersection changes will wait.

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Drivers maneuver through the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and Olmsted County Road 44 west of Rochester in this 2020 file photo. Highway 14 could see improvements under a new federal infrastructure bill.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — Funding for high-tension cable barriers in the U.S. Highway 14 median between U.S. Highway 52 in Rochester and Byron has been approved as other proposed safety projects continue to linger.

The Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments voted unanimously to approve the nearly $2.5 million project, making way for federal funds to be spent on the project. Work could start this year.

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The joint powers board, commonly known as ROCOG, also agreed to reverse an earlier change to its spending plan, so it better aligns with the existing state plan. The change, however, leaves a funding shortage of $1.86 million in proposed alterations to three Highway 14 intersections.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has proposed closing the median at Seventh Street Northwest, along with making revisions at the intersections at Olmsted County Roads 3 and 44.

Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier raised concerns about the proposal, since the county is seeking state or federal funding for a proposed new interchange at County Road 44, which would also include a bridge to cross over the highway at Seventh Street Northwest.

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State lawmakers are considering a request for nearly $21.8 million for the proposed interchange and Seventh Street bridge and extension, which are currently being designed and expected to cost $40 million.

MnDOT Assistant District Engineer Greg Paulson said the state department doesn’t see the proposed temporary modifications to be at odds with the larger project, even though they would be undone by future work.

“We do support an interchange at the intersection,” he said, estimating the temporary changes at County Road 44 would cost $350,000 of the $1.86 million.

Bier said he wants to wait to see if state or federal funding is secured before moving forward. If the funding isn’t available in the next two to three years, he said other changes could be considered.

“I don’t think anybody would disagree that there is a safety issue and something needs to be done,” he said.

The intersection is the site of 44 documented crashes between 2015 and 2019, with one being fatal and 21 resulting in injuries.

Paulson said a continued lack of funding for safety improvements at the site could lead MnDOT to consider other options for the site, which could include closure if it's deemed a large enough safety concern.

The local and state spending plans for the fiscal year that ends in June includes nearly $1 million for the intersection projects, but Paulson said the funding won’t be enough to complete the work and the state doesn’t have time to initiate a smaller project.

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As a result, he said the designated funds are expected to be used on other projects that can meet required deadlines.

“It would be spent statewide,” he said. “It would move to a different district.”

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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