Dodge County officials laud funding to start U.S. 14 expansion
While Dodge County officials welcomed news that up to $20 million had been awarded on Thursday to expand a stretch of U.S. 14 east of Owatonna, they said they are disappointed more wasn't done.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle announced that a 2 1/2 mile stretch of U.S. 14 from U.S. 218 to three quarters of a mile past Steele County Road 43 had been awarded the money through the state's new $300 million Corridors of Commerce program. The program, approved by state lawmakers last session, is aimed at transportation projects that will reduce bottlenecks and improve freight traffic.
For decades, advocates have been pushing to get a dangerous 15 1/2 mile stretch of U.S. 14 from Dodge Center to Owatonna expanded from two lanes to four. Dodge Center Mayor Bill Ketchum called Thursday's announcement a case of good news/bad news. While he is pleased construction work will begin on the stretch, he is disappointed more isn't being done to address the problems on the most dangerous portion of the road near Dodge Center.
"It's disappointing, but nonetheless, it's a start. I know there's not enough funding to do everything," he said.
The total cost to expand U.S. 14 from U.S. 218 to Minnesota Highway 56 in Dodge County is estimated to cost be between $155 million and $205 million, based on 2018 construction, said Heather Lukes, district project manager for U.S. 14. At this point, no funding has been identified to finish the project.
Competition for the Corridors of Commerce funding was intense, with 100 proposals submitted to the state for consideration. MnDOT staff were charged with ranking those projects based on criteria that included project readiness, community support, projected return on investment and safety impacts. Among the reasons cited for awarding funds to the U.S. 14 project was Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center, which is projected to create up to 40,000 jobs.
Construction on the project is expected to begin in late summer 2014 and be completed in 2015.
Two other stretches of U.S. 14 also were awarded funding under the program. Up to $28 million was set aside to expand the highway to four lanes from North Mankato to Nicollet, and up to $25 million was allocated for a four-lane Nicollet bypass.
Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, said she was thrilled to see three segments of U.S. 14 receive dollars under the program and vowed to keep fighting to get the rest of the highway expansion funded.
"I am encouraged by it, and today, I celebrate and tomorrow we start fighting for the rest of it," she said.
First District Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, issued a statement applauding the governor and MnDOT for allocating dollars to upgrade U.S. 14.
"For southern Minnesotans, this stretch of road is a true corridor of commerce, and today's commitment will improve the safety and economic growth of the region. I will continue to work with the governor, mayors and other local leaders to build the coalition to make Highway 14 four lanes border to border," Walz said.
But not everyone was pleased with how those dollars got divvied up. Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said he is at a loss to understand why the North Mankato and Nicollet projects are being given priority for funding when the traffic levels and anticipated growth are much higher for the stretch of U.S. 14 that runs from Mankato to Rochester.
"I am very disappointed that they don't go ahead and finish this project before starting stuff on the other end, when there is so much more use on this section," Quam said.
Residents who live along the dangerous stretch of U.S. 14 have sought the expansion for 50 years. Quam said it's time for the state to finish the project. He knows friends who have lost family members to fatal crashes on the highway and plenty of other people who have been involved in serious accidents.
"It's nice they are giving some funds and we're making some progress, but I have doubts as to how much of an effect it will have," he said. "I still have difficulty comprehending how they justified giving much more money to multiple projects over past Mankato than finishing this that has gone for decades."