By Tim Krohn
The Free Press
NORTH MANKATO —
For two decades a coalition of local leaders and area legislators lobbied -- mostly unsuccessfully -- for an upgrade to the deadly Highway 14 west of North Mankato.
This year, with the backing and clout of Gov. Mark Dayton, the highway got immediate attention to limit head-on crashes and a promise more of it would become a four-lane in the next decade.
A road safety audit determined that head-on crashes on Highway 14 from Nicollet to North Mankato are three times the state average for a similar roadway. An in-depth Free Press report on the roadway found similar evidence in 2010. The MnDOT study also determined that many motorists were driving well above the speed limit and were not buckled up.
A short section of Highway 14 from North Mankato to the west is being built to four lanes with a new interchange at County Road 41. That project is to be complete next year.
But a four-lane to Nicollet failed to appear on the state's 20-year plan, until revived by the governor.
"Gov. Dayton has taken this from the top and said 'This will happen,'" said Congressman Tim Walz during an announcement in June.
Dayton announced that about $2 million would be dedicated to an interim safety project on Highway 14 from North Mankato to Nicollet to prevent head-on crashes and said that in 2017-18 that stretch will be upgraded to four lanes.
The interim project, finished this fall, included an 8-foot median with tube delineators that makes motorists more aware of the center of the roadway and prevents passing on the six-mile segment. Rumble strips were placed on both the outside shoulder and the inside median to further alert drivers.
When a new four lane is built, the existing lanes of Highway 14 will become the eastbound pair of lanes for the expressway.
There is still one big unanswered question about the four-lane conversion: whether or not it will include a bypass of Nicollet, which would add an estimated $11 million to the price tag. If not, the expressway would likely end just shy of Highway 111.
Whether the bypass happens will depend on whether the state can find more than the $21 million to $25 million currently budgeted for the project.