Rochester-Olmsted County officials call for commitment to new Highway 14 overpass
Members of the Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments say the Minnesota Department of Transportation needs to add the project to its 10-year plan.
A group of local officials is saying planned safety changes along U.S. Highway 14 between Rochester and Byron must come with a plan to create an overpass at the intersection at County Road 44.
Members of the Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments unanimously supported the call for the Minnesota Department of Transportation to add the proposed $40 million overpass project to its 10-year plan.
“Since they don’t have it in their 10-year plan, it’s extremely difficult to get it in the (state) bonding bill,” said Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier, who is a member of the regional council focused on transportation issues.
The Minnesota Legislature has approved funding for design and land acquisition efforts related to the potential project, but local MnDOT officials have said the lack of construction funding makes it difficult to schedule the project.
Bier said his research shows the argument to be invalid.
“It appears to me that any of the projects in years 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 in MnDot’s 10-year plan has no funding source already,” he said.
Olmsted County commissioners have agreed to fund the project to get it started, if transportation officials will agree to pay their portion of the expense at a later date.
To address existing safety concerns at the intersection while an overpass is being considered, the state is planning to construct a “modified J-turn” at County Road 44, which was formerly known as County Road 104.
The change would close the median and only allow a right turn for traffic coming from the county road at the north of the intersection. Drivers seeking to head east would use a J-turn to change directions, and eastbound traffic on Highway 14 would use another J-turn to access County Road 44, heading north.
J-turns require drivers who want to cross a portion or all of the four-lane highway to take a right turn with traffic 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.
What happened: Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments members called for the Minnesota Department of Transportation to add an overpass at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and County Road 44 to its 10-year plan.
Why does this matter: Olmsted County officials have made an overpass at the County Road 44 crossing a priority as the state prepares to make temporary changes to address safety concerns.
What's next: Olmsted County commissioners will continue to see support for state funding to cover half of the estimated $40 million cost to build the proposed overpass.
County Commissioner Ken Brown, who also sits on the Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments, said he doesn’t see the change as addressing safety at the site, where a vehicle driven by former county commissioner James Daley was struck last year before he died of related injuries.
“You are starting from a standstill, just like you are at an at-grade intersection,” Brown said.
State transportation officials report that the modified intersections have proven to reduce injury crashes by 50% in the state, and fatal crashes are reportedly reduced by 70% where the changes are made.
“It does make it possible for us to make sure people are going to get home safe at night, while we wait for that funding for an interchange,” MnDOT project manager Tom Austin told the regional council last month.
The temporary change at County Road 44 is part of $1.3 million in safety improvements planned for three intersections along Highway 14.
A set of more traditional J-turns is planned at County Road 3 at an estimated cost of $1 million.
The other planned change is closing the median at Seventh Street Northwest to avoid cross traffic.
Olmsted County Planning Director Ben Griffith said the estimated $300,000 for the change at County Road 44 stems from special funding, and wouldn’t be available for the proposed overpass.
“If they are not spent here, they will go back to MnDOT,” he said of the funds.