NEW ULM — A congressman, several state lawmakers, a handful of mayors and bunch of business leaders were hoping to persuade a single commissioner — or maybe the commissioner's boss — to join them.
At a trio of press events and rallies, Congressman Tim Walz and local leaders called for Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle to include in a pending 20-year transportation plan the expansion of Highway 14 to four lanes between Rochester and New Ulm. After decades of effort by civic and political leaders along the route, most of the corridor has been transformed to a four-lane expressway.
But gaps remain east of Owatonna and west of North Mankato. While a draft 20-year plan includes previously announced work to expand roughly six miles of the dangerous two-lane portion of the highway between North Mankato and Nicollet and bridge replacements at New Ulm, the plan is silent on the final 19 miles between Nicollet and New Ulm and a similar stretch between Owatonna and Dodge Center.
The Highway 14 advocates want Zelle or his boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, to rectify that before the plan is finalized.
"We're asking to be on the list," Walz said during an event at a Chevy dealership just north of the highway in New Ulm.
New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman said his goal is to see the entire Rochester-to-New Ulm corridor completed, including the $200 million section from Nicollet to New Ulm. But Beussman believes the state plan, at a minimum, should include a bypass of Nicollet to avoid dropping a 65 mph stretch of four-lane into a small town with two intersections that have a history of deadly crashes. That would be the situation under the current MnDOT plan, which would extend the four-lane to the eastern edge of Nicollet with a $19 million project scheduled for 2018-19.