The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 26, 2012

County, state to go to mediation in dispute over old Highway 14

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

WASECA — Waseca County’s state-designated Oct. 31 deadline for coming to a funding agreement for repairs to old Highway 14 has been extended to Dec. 14.

The county’s attorney, Justin Weinberg of New Ulm, said all parties will go to mediation to try to resolve the impasse with the first mediation session set for early December.

At issue is a 19-mile stretch of old Highway 14 between Janesville and Owatonna that formerly was maintained by MnDOT. With the construction of a new Highway 14, that maintenance has reverted to Waseca County and to Steele County, which accommodates a small portion of the road.  

The Waseca County Board is contesting the level of repair recommended by MnDOT, which has offered the county $13.7 million in so-called turnback funds — money the state turns back to local government entities when the state ceases maintenance on a roadway.

MnDOT officials have said that the repairs they recommend for the battered and bumpy highway are adequate for the types and amounts of traffic it will absorb.

County officials disagree, saying the stretch between Janesville and Waseca in particular takes a heavy beating from truck traffic and requires a thicker overlay than the state has recommended.

The new Dec. 14 deadline was set after the two counties filed a petition with the state Office of Administrative Hearings. The petition challenged MnDOT’s right to cut off all turnback funding if an agreement wasn’t reached by Oct. 31.  

Waseca County and MnDOT have been in negotiations for months. MnDOT initially offered $12 million, then $13.2 million, then $13.7 million in turnback funds.

County officials said they have no specific dollar-request figure in mind. That figure would be determined by the extent of the eventual repairs.

Weinberg said the mediation will focus on what it will take to build the road up to an “acceptable condition.”

He said Waseca County will take over maintenance of old Highway 14 on Nov. 1, with MnDOT paying the tab until an agreement is reached, or until Dec. 31.