The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 2, 2005

Bill provides millions for local projects

Highway 14, Victory Drive work get funds

By Gregg Hennigan

Mankato, MN — A massive transportation bill passed by Congress last week includes millions of dollars for two local projects.

The U.S. Highway 14 project received $11.3 million and the Victory Drive extension got $4 million in the six-year $286.4 billion bill for highway and mass transit projects across the nation. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

"We're elated," said Al Forsberg, Blue Earth County public works director.

Both projects are considered priorities by local officials but have faced financial problems, which the federal money is expected to help fix.

"It's a sizable amount," said Blue Earth County Commissioner Colleen Landkamer. "We're really excited about it."

The last phase of the Victory Drive extension - linking Holly Lane to the north of Madison Avenue with Victory to the south and putting in a new intersection - has been stalled for about a year for lack of money. Earlier work included a Highway 14 interchange, a frontage road leading to River Hills Mall and a bridge over Thompson Ravine.

A preliminary cost estimate for the final stage is $10 million to $13 million, Forsberg said.

The $4 million from the transportation bill, combined with $600,000 in federal money from other sources, will go toward that total. The city of Mankato and Blue Earth County will make up the rest, Forsberg said.

Design work and the acquiring of right of way needs to be done and work on the actual road is at least one year away, Forsberg said.

A timeline for the Highway 14 work is even further off. The $11.3 million is for the Waseca to Owatonna stretch, which includes a bypass around Waseca and a widening of the highway to four lanes.

Work on the bypass is scheduled to start in 2007 or 2008, and construction on the rest of the highway is not planned for until 2017, said Brad Larsen, a federal relations director with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The combined work has a current estimated cost of $135 million. The $11.3 million will likely be used to design the project and buy right of ways for the bypass, Larsen said.

"These dollars will go a long way to helping get those next big pieces to go," he said.

Officials from both the city and county have lobbied hard for money for the two projects from Minnesota's members of Congress. That included in March, when four county commissioners and two city councilmen made separate trips to Washington, D.C., for conferences and met with representatives and senators.

The county had asked for $30 million for Highway 14 and $12.5 million for Victory Drive. Though the money in the recent bill was not as high, Landkamer said the results were positive.

"Ask for the amount, and hope for something," she said of the lobbying effort.