The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 12, 2013

A busy road agenda for Blue Earth County officials

County engineer has long list of needed projects

By Mark Fischenich
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — An interchange on Highway 14 to serve Eagle Lake, new roads on Mankato’s east side, another roundabout on Highway 22 south of town and a faster-than-expected start to construction on old Highway 14 on the city’s eastern border. ...

For a routine Public Works Department update, Al Forsberg covered a lot of ground at Tuesday’s Blue Earth County Board meeting — providing news on current construction projects and a glance at what may be coming far down the road.

Here’s a glance of some of the construction on the county public works director’s short-term and long-term “to do” list.

Rush work

The County Road 17 (old Highway 14) project was expected to focus almost exclusively on the Eagle Lake side early this summer, but state transportation officials are pressuring the county to get going on the Mankato end of the large project.

The four-mile, $10.3 million project rebuilds the highway from Mankato all the way to and through Eagle Lake. It will expand the four-lane Madison Avenue a half-mile to the east, build a new roundabout at recently extended County Road 12, add three more roundabouts at intersections to the east, build a bike trail between the cities and transform Eagle Lake’s main drag into an urban street.

The initial plan was to have contractor Mathiowetz Construction focus on first completing the disruptive Eagle Lake work. Forsberg said Mathiowetz will still be hitting that end of the project hard as soon as the ground dries out, but state officials want the west end completed this year as well.

The reasoning is that it’s going to be a challenge to keep traffic flowing on Mankato’s east side in 2014 when two new roundabouts are constructed on Highway 22 at Madison Avenue and Adams Street. One major option for diverting traffic from Highway 22 is County Road 12, a road that leads from Highway 22 north of town, past the airport, has a new interchange with Highway 14 and continues south to County Road 17 just east of town.

If County Road 17 is under construction next year from Mankato Ford to County Road 12, and if 12 is shut down for construction of the roundabout there, east-side traffic could be even more snarled. So the new plan is for Mathiowetz to get both the Mankato-side work and the Eagle Lake end done this year.

“You’ll start to see work there soon,” Forsberg said. “... I tell staff we’ve got a tiger by the tail, let’s do our best to hang on to it.”

CR 12 going south

Environmental studies are underway on the fifth stage of the County Road 12 project, which is to serve as the new north-south thoroughfare on Mankato’s far east side and will be heavily used by truck traffic at the planned Wal-Mart distribution Center. After completing the northern end of the project, including the new interchange at Highway 14, the county is looking to extend the road to Mankato’s southeast side to hook up with Highway 83.

The next phase could cost nearly $10 million, and Forsberg is hoping for millions of dollars in federal and state grants. The environmental and preliminary design work will allow a specific route to be identified and the right-of-way to be preserved for construction if funding is identified in coming years.

Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges recently warned the Mankato City Council that the county was likely to push the city to provide financial backing for the project. Hentges said the city would have to decide whether the County Road 12 extension was a priority compared to other possible improvements, such as the extension of Adams Street in the city’s expanding east-side industrial area.

CR 90 roundabout

Beginning in 2017, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is looking to spend $9.5 million for improvements to Highway 22 between Mapleton and County Road 90 just south of Mankato. Forsberg said that would be a smart time to add a roundabout at Highway 22 and County Road 90, which serves as the southern bypass of Mankato and currently relies on a stop sign at Highway 22.

County Board members agreed that a roundabout there should be considered and said they’ve heard repeated concerns about the current intersection.

Eagle Lake interchange

Another crash this week between two semis at Highway 14 and Highway 60 led Forsberg to talk about an even longer-range vision — this one maybe decades in the future.

Forsberg noted that one of the first pieces of the new four-lane Highway 14 — built between Mankato and Eagle Lake —included several at-grade intersections.

“These have proven to be very hazardous,” he said.

The long-range plan, working with MnDOT, is to consolidate remaining at-grade intersections into a new interchange with an overpass and entrance/exit ramps. The interchange would be built on the east side of Eagle Lake, serving Highway 60 to the north and County Road 90 to the south. Before that happens, County Road 90 would need to be extended more than three miles from where it currently ends at Highway 83.