The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 31, 2013

MnDOT deal with Waseca County on Highway 14 falls apart

MnDOT said counties returned a changed document

WASECA — Last week Waseca and Steele counties announced the state had capitulated to their demands in regards to turning back part of old Highway 14.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle sent out a sharply worded statement saying the state will not sign the agreement because the counties returned a document that was different than what the state had agreed to.

“The document sent back to us by both county boards was not the document to which we agreed. It contained language that we had not approved, and MnDOT was not given the chance to review that document before it went to the county boards.”

The latest dust-up involves a 19-mile stretch of former Highway 14 between Janesville and Owatonna. When the new Highway 14 was built, state law called for the old state highway to be turned back to the counties. But the two counties said MnDOT's offer of paying up to $13 million to reconstruct the road before turning it over to the counties was insufficient.

The state and counties could not come to an agreement on funding levels, so in December of 2012 the state turned the road over to the counties without any turnback funding. The counties then sued MnDOT.

Since then, the two sides have been trying to work out a negotiated agreement and both sides said they had reached a tentative deal in October.

Last week the counties announced they had approved an agreement in which they said MnDOT had agreed to pay the entire amount for complete renovation of the highway.

But in his statement, Zelle said that is not at all what MnDOT agreed to.

"Under the proposed settlement, MnDOT would not provide funding to the counties. Instead, MnDOT would reacquire control of the roadway, perform agreed-on work to preserve the roadway for the counties, and then turn the roadway back over to the counties," the statement from Zelle said.

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