The Free Press
— Two bills moving through the Minnesota Legislature aim to make Highway 14 a premier and safe corridor of commerce that will become a gateway to tremendous economic development across southern Minnesota.
While the bills may evolve and change as they move through the legislative process, both deserve widespread support by legislators across geographies and political parties.
One bill, HF 210, calls for appropriating $409 million over five years to make two-lane sections of the road into four-lane sections, thereby making the highway a four-lane continuous stretch from Rochester to New Ulm.
The second bill, HF 211, calls for including the Highway 14 projects in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 20-year transportation plan.
Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, is the lead author of both bills but is joined by many other area representatives of both parties.
The funding bill has specific language appropriating the money from the Trunk Highway Fund, but Brynaert notes that is more of a starting point in a larger discussion about possible new funding mechanisms for what are becoming known as corridors of commerce. It will not likely be appropriated in the traditional way.
But there are positive signs there is growing support for completing this important road project. Both chairs of House and Senate transportation committee wanted a bill that included the cost of the project.
Brynaert says Rep. Frank Hornstein, chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, is working on finding a funding mechanism for the so-called corridors of commerce. He visited with Mankato leaders Friday and proposed a 5-cent per gallon gas tax increase to fund projects such as Highway 14.
The second bill that calls for Highway 14 to be put in MnDOT’s 20-year plan requires it be left in the plan until the project is completed. It also says MnDOT may not delay the project unless it notifies legislative leadership of the committee with jurisdiction over road funding.
Both bills have been heard and discussed in House transportation committees and are moving through the legislative process. Local officials from Owatonna to Mankato have testified in their favor.
Taken together, these two initiatives represent the biggest push yet to complete Highway 14 safety and development projects after decades of fighting for them. For years, cities and counties and residents and businesses have lobbied for an improved and safer Highway 14. With a strong push from all those groups again, and more, there is a real chance this project can happen.
There already has been some success in this regard. Gov. Mark Dayton last year after hearing from residents, legislators and businesses about the dire needs of Highway 14, approved a four-lane expansion from North Mankato to Nicollet.
That was a response in part to a 2010 Free Press series that showed part of Highway 14 had a fatality rate twice the state average and a follow-up independent report by MnDOT that showed parts of it had a fatality rate three times the state average.
Now the timing seems right to push for full funding of completion of the four-lane from Rochester to New Ulm, including unfinished pieces between Owatonna and Dodge Center and Nicollet and New Ulm.
The projects would not only vastly improve safety and save lives but leverage an economic development boom across southern Minnesota.