The opportunity to fund a long-awaited stretch of Highway 14 as a four lane between Nicollet and New Ulm lies in part with the will of the people.

MnDOT has applied for a federal grant that would fund up to $25 million of the $85 million needed to complete the highway. The Highway 14 stretch is one of three projects MnDOT submitted to the federal government for a BUILD grant.

Nearly every state has secured one grant each year, so Highway 14 has a real chance of getting the money. Federal officials who make funding decisions also look favorably on projects that have multiple funding sources and have popular support.

MnDOT has committed to funding the additional $60 million with funds from different programs if necessary, even if the Legislature does not provide the funding. That’s a strong commitment on the part of MnDOT and shows how the agency is working creatively to fund critical projects when the Senate GOP caucus continues to refuse long-term funding like the gas tax.

Nicollet County has also committed $3.5 million to the project, a substantial investment given the county’s relatively small size.

All of those elements will make the Highway 14 grant attractive for federal funding, according to Peter Harff, assistant district engineer for the Mankato MnDOT district.

If the grant is awarded, construction of the 12-mile stretch would likely start in 2022 and be finished in 2023.

Without the grant, that stretch of Highway 14 would likely remain two-lane far into the future. MnDOT District 7 does not currently get allocated enough funds to meet state road maintenance benchmarks so it can’t use funds for new or expanded roads, Harff said.

Highway 14 has been proven to be one of the most dangerous roads in the state. It’s a key to commerce between New Ulm and Rochester, serving trucking firms and manufacturing plants in New Ulm and major enterprises such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Public input will also help secure the grant. Businesses, citizens and communities are encouraged to write letters to federal officials. That’s an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s very unusual that road expansions come down to a “popular vote.” But that could be the determining factor in this case.

We encourage residents, business, nonprofit and communities to write those letters. That may make the difference between a complete four-lane Highway 14 from Rochester to New Ulm now or one that never happens.

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