MANKATO — The Minnesota Department of Transportation finalized its 20-year plan with minimal changes, setting its statewide focus on maintaining its existing transportation infrastructure.
For Mankato's 13-county regional district, the plan approves approximately $474.2 million for regional projects through 2020, but leaves out projects for Highway 14.
MnDOT District 7 spokesperson Rebecca Arndt said the finalized Minnesota 20-year State Highway Investment Plan changes little from the preliminary plan released in July. She said the final plan signals to District 7 that "preserving its existing roads" should be its focus for the coming years.
However, she said the fiscally restrained plans are focused on the funds MnDOT is projected to receive, and does not account for the projects it would like to complete. She said MnDOT could expand the number of projects it will tackle if transportation funding increased in the future.
"Our vision is much larger than this plan," said Arndt.
MnDOT faces major budgetary shortfalls over its 20-year plan because its $18 billion in project revenues is dwarfed by its $30 billion in projected expenses. The first 10 years of the plan prioritize investment themes of safety improvements, multimodal transportation and fostering economic development. The second 10 years is focused almost exclusively on preserving and maintaining existing roads and bridges
Despite the plan's limited scope, Mankato's district has several new projects planned for the coming years: several big expansions for Highway 14, major work on Highway 169 between Mankato and St. Peter, two large roundabouts in Mankato and completes the expansion of Highway 60 to four lanes from Windom to St. James.
The final plan is a mixture of disappointment and success for advocates of Highway 14's four-lane expansion, according to Highway 14 Partnership lobbyist Amanda Duerr.
The big blow for Highway 14 advocates was MnDOT's decision to not include completing Highway 14's four-lane expansion from Rochester to New Ulm in the final plan. The full expansion, which is the primary goal of the Highway 14 Partnership, was included in MnDOT's prior 20-year plans. The only Highway 14 expansion included in the plan was the segment from North Mankato to Nicollet, which was promised by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2012.
Duerr said the absences of Highway 14 from the plan means any new windfall of federal transportation funding will not used on the project since it is not listed as an official state priority.
The remaining four-lane expansion of Highway 14 from Nicollet to New Ulm is estimated to cost between $101 million and $167 million.
At the same time, Duerr said Highway 14 advocates are celebrating this year due to Highway 14 gaining $45 million in funding from the new statewide Corridors of Commerce program. The program was passed by the Minnesota Legislature earlier this year. The program was allocated $300 million by the Legislature to fund improvements to highway corridors that boost economic development.
The new funding moved up the schedule for the Highway 14 four-lane expansion from North Mankato from a 2018 start date to a 2015 start date. The funding also added a bypass around Nicollet to the project and approved a four-lane expansion of Highway 14 from Owatonna to Dodge Center.
Duerr said the Highway 14 Partnership plans to focus on getting the Legislature to pass annual funding for the Corridors program next year. She said it would help progress funding for Highway 14 and help statewide transportation.