MANKATO — For supporters of the long-sought Highway 14 expansion, it was the same old story in September. A congressman, a smattering of mayors, some state lawmakers and a batch of business leaders orchestrated a New Ulm press conference to talk about the injustice of the project being left out of a 20-year state transportation plan.
“We can’t rest and we won’t rest until this is completed,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato.
Giving it a rest might have been tempting for some of the area folks who had been pushing the longest to complete anunbroken four-lane expressway from Rochester to New Ulm. While Walz has pushed hard for federal funding for the project since his election in 2006, he was just a Nebraska grade-schooler when the first push for the four-lane was made.
Creation of the Highway 14 Partnership in the 1990s ramped up the pressure on state and federal officials to fund the project, and big strides were made between Rochester and Mankato. Key segments of the expansion were built in the first years of the 21st century between Eagle Lake and Janesville. By 2006, it was completed to Waseca. Last fall, the expressway opened between Waseca and Owatonna, and work was under way on a new interchange and a small stretch of additional four-lane on North Mankato’s west side.
Gov. Mark Dayton also had promised in 2012 — following a MnDOT study that confirmed an in-depth series by The Free Press that the highway west of North Mankato was one of the state’s deadliest stretches of two-lane — to get construction completed from North Mankato to the east edge of Nicollet by 2019.
But after that, it looked like the funding was drying up. Possibly for a couple of decades or more. Which is what prompted the press conference, one of countless events organized over the past four decades to push for the project.