The time is right for completion of U.S. Highway 14 expansion project

Below is a guest column published in the New Ulm Journal on Jan. 23. It was written by Mayors Bob Buessman of New Ulm and Fred Froehlich of Nicollet, who both also serve on the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership’s Board of Directors.

The time is right for completion of U.S. Highway 14 expansion project

As the mayors of Nicollet and New Ulm, we depend on U.S. Highway 14 to connect our two cities. Freight traffic, shoppers and commuters all travel along this two-lane strip of highway. While it is no longer the most dangerous stretch of highway in the state thanks to MnDOT’s delineators, it is still a difficult drive.

We both serve on the board of directors for the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership because as mayors, we know how important this highway is to our communities. Our legislators should know this as well. The benefits have been stated before: safety, commerce and convenience.

While we all recognize the reasons why expanding U.S. Highway 14 to four lanes is important to our communities, it remains to be seen whether our legislators can act on this key issue. However, one element is working in our favor: conditions are ripe for action this year.

First of all, Minnesota is running a budget surplus of more than $1 billion for the second year in a row. We believe the best use of this one-time money is to invest it in improving our state’s infrastructure, including U.S. Highway 14. State budget constraints are no longer an excuse for delay.

Second, we have a strong group of legislators who should be working on this issue. Two legislators that serve the U.S. Highway 14 corridor, Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca), sit in leadership positions. Rep. Petersburg is vice chair of the House Transportation Committee, where he can keep the concerns about Highway 14 front and center in committee discussions. As chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, Rep. Torkelson will be writing one of the three most important bills in 2016 (the others being a tax bill and a transportation bill). Rep. Torkelson has said that the three bills will be inter-related. That means he will be at the table where the crucial legislative decisions will be made – we are calling on him to do everything in his power to make sure the expansion of U.S. Highway 14 is among the final accomplishments of the 2016 Legislature.

On the Democrats’ side, two of our best advocates, Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato) and Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) have announced that they will not seek re-election after this session. While we can still tap into their common sense, well-reasoned advocacy, we encourage them to make the expansion of U.S. Highway 14 from New Ulm to Rochester part of their legacy. And with Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) serving on the Senate and House Transportation Committees, respectively, we can further ensure that Highway 14 is part of the transportation debate in both bodies.

It’s also important to note that interest rates are beginning to inch up, which means the cost of the trunk highway bonds needed to pay for the U.S. Highway 14 expansion will be rising. It is unlikely we will see a better time than now to finance this project.

For these reasons, we call upon the Minnesota Legislature to finally complete the Highway 14 expansion project. Legislators have two viable funding options: $500 million split between $200 million one-time cash and $300 million trunk highway bonds for Corridors of Commerce would make significant progress, or $300 million directly for U.S. Highway 14 will finish the job.

The time is right. Fix it now.

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