Dirt flies as Hwy. 14 expansion begins after decades of battling
With ceremonial shovels of dirt flying, the long awaited expansion of Hwy. 14 between Owatonna and Dodge Center is finally underway. For some, it was a day that has been 40 years in the making.
“This is a wonderful day, if you’re not excited, you don’t have a heart beat,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. “This is a special day.”
Local, state and federal officials gathered on a Steele County cul-de-sac butting up to Hwy. 14 Friday afternoon for the ceremonial groundbreaking of a project that has been hard fought by many people for decades. Gov. Tim Walz was on hand along with Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher and U.S. Congressman Jim Hagedorn. Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz served as emcee for the ceremony.
“Senator Jasinski, I call you the bull dog,” said Rep. Brian Daniels, R- Faribault, bringing some chuckles from a crowd of about 75 people gathered for the historic ceremony.
In his first term in the state senate, Jasinski worked tirelessly with other lawmakers to find funding for the 12.5 mile two-lane stretch between Owatonna and Dodge Center that has been the scene of many deadly crashes over the years.
Jasinski said that during his campaign for office, he constantly heard from people telling him Hwy. 14 needed to be improved. During Friday’s ceremony, he asked for a moment of silence to remember those who have died along Hwy. 14.
After the ceremony, Jasinski said, “I was a bull dog. It was the second most happy time of my life other than the birth of my children. I am very humble to get this done in my first two years.”
Gov. Walz said, “It’s a great day, it was long in coming.”
Also in attendance Friday was Beth Hodgman, a West Concord widow who lost her husband, Scott, in a deadly wreck along Hwy. 14 in 2012. Since his death, she fought a tough battle with state lawmakers to find funding to expand the roadway to four lanes. And it didn’t come without many disappointments. But finally the legislature passed the funding earlier this year.
“I’m super excited,” Hodgman acknowledged. “It’s exciting, it’s emotional, it’s been hard,” she said fighting back tears. “I hope they got sick of me thinking she’s not going to go away until we get the damn road fixed,” she said referring to lawmakers.
Hodgman says it was wrong for the state to not fix this roadway sooner. “I had a story and it was real,” she said referring to her husband’s tragedy. “Scott’s death can’t be for nothing.”
In addition to safety enhancements, the roadway expansion will mean economic development for cities along the route like Owatonna. Mayor Kuntz said the Hwy. 14 expansion played a key role in Owatonna recently attracting Costco, which plans to build a regional warehouse serving 27 stores next year. “Having the four lane will bring much more in,” Kuntz said.
The project is intended to improve the capacity, safety, travel times and access to Rochester and Owatonna as well as the I-35 corridor. Shafer Contracting will be working on the $108 million project over the next two years. Preliminary work will take place yet this fall with construction set to begin in spring.