We can’t remember a public push for a highway project that was greater than the blitz going on right now to get MnDOT to include Highway 14 as a priority for funding in the next 20 years.
It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. While a large coalition of businesses, government and average citizens are backing completion of the roadway to secure safe driving for motorists and bolster crucial and burgeoning commercial development along the corridor, the main request right now isn’t even funding: It’s simply to put the project on MnDOT’s so called “20-year plan” for priorities in funding.
While the 20-year plan sounds like a bureaucratic step that doesn’t mean anything, it appears to be the important document in terms of priorities for the billions of dollars in road funding available over the next few years. It apparently can be amended, but it’s unclear just how that would work.
The 20-year plan has evolved a bit in that it now only lists specific projects for the first seven years of the plan. Projects can be added when more funding becomes available. But the Highway 14 Coalition also notes that being left off the 20-year plan could make getting federal funds for the project more difficult. MnDOT officials disagree with that assessment.
Congressman Tim Walz and civic leaders were in New Ulm Monday to make the case. Walz called for Dayton and Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle to put Highway 14 on the list. New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman pointed out that MnDOT has only committed to 6.5 miles of Highway 14 improvement with the more than 30 miles that need expanding. It’s a figure he and others find unacceptable. Rightly so.
The recently approved project from North Mankato to Nicollet is on the list. But the Highway 14 partnership, a coalition of governments and businesses, has been pushing to get the entire project as priority. That would include another 19-mile stretch between Nicollet and New Ulm and another similar area between Owatonna and Dodge Center.