MANKATO — About $40 million is slated to be spent on Highway 169 improvements between Mankato and St. Peter by the end of 2016 after a $9.8 million federal grant was awarded to raise flood-prone portions of the highway.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation was already planning to raise about two miles of low-lying lanes of the highway between St. Peter and Le Sueur next year as part of a $13.2 million resurfacing of nine miles of Highway 169 between the two cities.
MnDOT also had about $3 million set aside to elevate Highway 22 just east of Highway 169 in St. Peter in 2015, another spot that frequently is shut down during major floods.
But the federal grant announced Wednesday by the U.S. Economic Development Administration means similar work will be done in four often-flooded locations between Mankato and St. Peter in 2016.
Currently, floods frequently threaten portions of the highway and can cause major disruptions because of the road’s heavy traffic volumes and the limited alternative routes.
“We’ve closed the highway seven times in the last 20 years,” said Zachary Tess, MnDOT’s project manager for the three projects.
Because of the federal grant’s source, the announcement focused heavily on the economic importance of avoiding future closings.
“The EDA grant announced today will help rebuild a vital transportation link between south-central Minnesota and the Twin Cities region,” wrote U.S. Commerce Department official Matt Erskine, “supporting the local economy and ensuring that the highway will continue to reliably serve the area’s many agricultural producers and the jobs that depend on them.”
Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato and both of Minnesota’s U.S. senators were also quoted in the news release.
The portions of the road that will be raised between Mankato and St. Peter — a combined three miles of highway — are just north of town near the Hiniker sawmill, farther north near the River Bluff Road, in the area of the Nicollet County park at Seven Mile Creek, and just south of St. Peter. Without the federal grant, none of that work would have been done, Tess said, with the 2016 project consisting of just road resurfacing.
MnDOT is also planning to add a median barrier for nine miles between Mankato and St. Peter to reduce the deadly head-on collisions that can happen when vehicles stray into opposing lanes. Along with improvements to at-grade intersections on the north side of St. Peter and various levels of pavement improvement between Mankato and Le Sueur, the total work over the three years is just short of $40 million.
MnDOT spokeswoman Rebecca Arndt said the flood-mitigation projects involve raising only southbound lanes of Highway 169 above the 100-year-flood mark. Northbound lanes will be left at existing elevations, the plan being to run both southbound and northbound traffic on the higher southbound side of the highway when large floods occur in the future.
While elected leaders and Obama administration officials were highlighted in the press release, Arndt and Tess said another person was key in the Commerce Department money coming to the Mankato area.
“MnDOT made the application but the Region Nine Development Commission, especially (transportation planner) Rhonda Allis made us aware of the dollars and helped us through the application process,” Arndt said.