Below is a guest column published today in the Mankato Free Press. It was written by Patrick Baker, director of government & institutional affairs for Greater Mankato Growth and a member of the Highway 14 Partnership board of directors.
It’s time to finish Highway 14
Old-timers with whom I serve on the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership remember returning from the Vietnam War to newspaper articles proclaiming that this important highway corridor would be expanded to four lanes.
A lot has changed since the mid-1970s. Notably, the population of the counties connected by Highway 14 from Rochester to New Ulm has increased more than 37 percent. Yet Highway 14 still retains twolane segments, creating one of the most dangerous roads in the state and serving as a barrier to efficient commerce.
With this population growth, Highway 14 has become the most densely populated highway corridor in Minnesota without a continuous four-lane connection. In fact, as the chart accompanying this column shows, the nearly 350,000 people that live along the 112-mile stretch of Highway 14 from Rochester to New Ulm constitute a larger population than all other similar length corridors in the state that already have four-lane connections.
From Duluth to North Branch along I-35, Rochester to Fairmont along I-90, St. Cloud to Fergus Falls along I-94 and Grand Forks to Bemidji along Highway 2, the common denominator is that all of these important corridors serve smaller populations than Highway 14 does from Rochester to New Ulm and they are all connected by unbroken four-lane highways.
Highway 14 has experienced some good news over the past few years. The creation of a new state program known as Corridors of Commerce has helped create critical momentum, directing much needed funding to expansion projects along the Highway 14 corridor.
In 2015, MnDOT put finishing touches on an additional 2.6 miles of four-lane expansion east of Owatonna and this year it will finalizethe expansion from North Mankato to west of Nicollet. What remains are two segments each about 12 miles long — Owatonna to Dodge Center and Nicollet to New Ulm. To finish off these segments would take approximately $300 million, a large sum to be sure, but justified given the importance of Highway 14 to not just our region, but the entire state.
We know that Highway 14 serves as a critical corridor of commerce that residents of southern Minnesota rely on to get to medical appointments at the Mayo Clinic, take their kids to sports tournaments, commute to their job and truck their crops to market.
We know that southern Minnesota’s economy is thriving and growing. And, with segments of Highway 14 having a severe crash rate nearly 40 percent higher than the state average, we sadly know all too well how many of our friends, family andneighbors have been killed or seriously injured on this highway.
That Highway 14 continues to have two-lane segments is simply unacceptable and represents a stunning failure of our state leaders to live up to their basic constitutional duty to provide adequate transportation infrastructure. Our legislators along the Highway 14 corridor should put completion of this highway from Rochester to New Ulm at the top of their priority list. It is time for them to come together in a bipartisan coalition to say enough is enough and put their collective foot down.
For our region to continue to grow and become an even bigger contributor to the state’s economy, we expect our state leaders to do their share by making the necessary investments to provide a safe and efficient transportation infrastructure that supports this region’s businesses and commuters.
We’ve waited more than 40 years. Long enough. It’s time to finish Highway 14.