The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 27, 2013

Old Highway 14 issue lands in court

County, state still at odds over turnback funds

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

WASECA — The fate of old Highway 14 in Waseca County continues to twist in the wind.

The county and the Minnesota Department of Transportation remain at odds over how much state money the county should receive to restore the road to an acceptable condition, and now the matter has landed in a district court.

“We want to get this resolved because we recognize that the condition of the road is deteriorating every day,” Waseca County Administrator Laura Elvebak said.

At issue is a 19.5 mile stretch of 14 that formerly was maintained by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. With the construction of a new Highway 14, maintenance on the old stretch has reverted to the county.

The haggling rests with turnback funds — money the state turns back to local governmental bodies when the state ceases maintenance on a roadway.

MnDOT initially offered $12 million to Waseca County. That offer was upped to $13.2 million, then to $13.7 million. The county rejected those offers.

Elvebak said the last offer the county received was $11.3 million. She declined to speculate on why the offer was lowered.

MnDOT officials said they won’t comment on matters that are in litigation. When the two sides sat down with a mediator but failed to come to a turnback funding agreement in December, the matter was handed off to Steele County District Court.

Steele County is involved because turnback funding on a portion of 14 in that county also is being contested.

Elvebak said Waseca County officials recognize that turnback funding amounts can vary for roadways due to factors such as their condition and traffic volumes. But they question why Blue Earth County recently received $11.4 million for refurbishing a portion of 14 that is a much shorter stretch (4.5 miles) than the one in Waseca County.

MnDOT officials have said that the repairs they recommend for old 14 are adequate for the types and amounts of traffic it will absorb.

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

Last week, Waseca County and Steele County officials lobbied legislators in St. Paul, asking them to request that MnDOT reopen negotiations.

Meantime, Elvebak said Waseca County is doing the best it can to maintain the county’s battered and bumpy stretch of old 14.