Dozens of people gathered in Nicollet today to celebrate the “groundbreaking” for the upcoming Highway 14 project. The $31 million project has been in the works for years as people recognized the safety concerns along the route (with a 2012 Road Safety Audit confirming the prevalence of head-on collisions). However, it took decades to finally earmark sufficient funds to increase Highway 14 from a two-lane highway to a four-lane highway from Rochester to New Ulm.
Along with adding 6.5 miles of the two additional lanes north of existing Highway 14, the project also includes a 2.5-mile four-lane southern bypass of Nicollet with an interchange for Highway 111. According to the MN Department of Transportation, the project should be completed by fall 2016.
Several people spoke at this morning’s ceremony, including Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich, who acted as master of ceremonies.
“I’m very, very pleased to see this day finally happen,” Froehlich said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of letter writing.”
MnDOT Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle was also on hand to discuss the project.
“It’s really about connecting these regions of commerce, not just for business but also to improve quality of life,” he said.
However, Zelle stressed that there is still work to be done, since the project hasn’t secured funding to increase Highway 14 to a four-lane route from Nicollet to New Ulm.
In fact, congressmen and women present took things a step further, calling on the audience to support a more stable funding mechanism when it comes to the state’s transportation. Recently, Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed gas tax increase, meant to create a reliable stream of revenue for transportation projects, was defeated. Now, both Republicans and Democrats are struggling to find ways to improve Minnesota’s crumbling infrastructure, which is estimated to be far overdue for renovation. (The latest Infrastructure Report by the American Society of Civil Engineers grades our state a D- when it comes to infrastructure, noting that nearly one third of Minnesota’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.)
“We all share a frustration around transportation, and we all know it’s a priority,” said Sen. Kathy Sheran.
As construction gets underway, Nicollet’s County Road 23 (south of Highway 14) will be closed until late summer of 216.
(The ceremonial groundbreaking)