The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 20, 2013

MnDOT capitulates to Waseca County demands with old Hwy 14

By Josh Moniz

---- — WASECA — After more than a year of high-profile debate and legal wrangling, the Minnesota Department of Transportation ended its dispute with Waseca County over old Highway 14 by agreeing to pay the entire cost of renovating the roadway.

“The county is very pleased with this,” said by Justin Weinberg, the attorney for Waseca and Steele counties. “It's exactly what we were looking (to achieve).”

MnDOT nullified Waseca County's dispute over MnDOT's funding for the 19-mile stretch of former state highway between Owatonna and Janesville by agreeing to the settlement drafted by Weinberg. Waseca County's dispute revolves around its rejection of MnDOT's turnback funding proposals, which exceeded $13 million in some offers, as insufficient to bring the roadway into "acceptable condition."

MnDOT provides turnback funding to local governments when it ceases maintaining a roadway. The four-lane expansion of Highway 14 changed the route of the highway, resulting in old Highway 14 becoming separated from the main traffic flow.

The debate between MnDOT and Waseca County lasted long enough to exceed state funding deadlines, resulting in MnDOT handing over ownership of old Highway 14 in December 2012 without any turnback funding. Waseca County responded with a lawsuit and threats it would vacate the roadway.

MnDOT and Waseca County came to their agreement in late October. MnDOT will cover the entire cost of reconstructing the urban portions of old Highway 14 in Waseca and Janesville and will cover the cost of replacing roadway on the rural segments with 5 inches of concrete overlay.

Waseca and Janesville will cover the cost of installing new utility lines during construction. Waseca County will be responsible for covering the cost of any additional work it requests beyond MnDOT's assigned construction. No additional work has been determined yet.

Cost estimates can't be determined until bids are received for the work.

Waseca and Steele counties formally accepted the settlement this week. MnDOT officials are expected to formally approve the settlement soon.

“This is the fair agreement we asked for from the start,” said Laura Elvebak, Waseca County administrator. “It accounts for the concerns the county had (with the highway).”

Because the settlement uses trunk highway funds, the allocation will have to be passed in an appropriation bill in the Minnesota Legislature next year. Weinberg said that because the settlement does not ask for new funds, it should easily pass without incident in the Legislature.

The settlement also carries an agreement that both sides will dismiss with prejudice any outstanding litigation after the proposal is approved by the Legislature.

Weinberg said MnDOT is tentatively shooting to start construction in 2015.