Governor signs bill for Hwy. 14 upgrade
Residents of Steele and Dodge counties finally got what they have long hoped for.
Last week Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill that included language ensuring that the funds to upgrade U.S. Highway 14 from Owatonna to Dodge Center will be available in 2019.
Although funding for the 12-1/2 mile stretch of highway was approved last year, a question arose over the language of the bill and whether the funds could be released 2019 or had to wait until 2021, which would have delayed construction until 2022.
With bipartisan support, the Minnesota House and Senate passed legislation making “technical corrections” to the legislation, and Walz signed the bill the next day.
The action clears the way for design work to begin on the project this year with actual construction in 2020.
The safety of Highway 14 has been a concern of southern Minnesota residents for decades. Over the years, portions of the highway have been upgraded to four lanes. Currently the only two lane sections that remain are two 12-1/2 mile segments – one from Owatonna to Dodge Center and the other from Nicollet to New Ulm.
Instrumental in keeping improvements to the highway before the public and the legislature has been the Highway 14 Partnership.
The Partnership was formed in 1998 and includes local governments, businesses and organizations throughout southern Minnesota.
“We are grateful that the governor and legislature were able to come to an agreement that will allow construction on the Owatonna to Dodge Center Highway 14 expansion project to proceed as scheduled,” said Karen Foreman, president of the Partnership.
“The legislation signed by the governor fixes a technical glitch in a bill passed last year that would have held up $160 million of funding and delayed the project’s start until 2022.”
Highway 14 has long been considered the most dangerous highway in the state and the stretch between Owatonna and Dodge Center has claimed four lives since July 2018.
The most recent fatality was on Feb. 2 when an Owatonna woman was killed in a head-on collision in Havana Township. On Sept. 7, a Dodge Center woman and her young daughter were killed in a rear-end collision at the intersection of Highway 14 and County Road 3 near Claremont. On July 18, a Dodge Center man died in a crash at Highway 14 and Highway 56 north near Dodge Center.
“Recent tragic events on this portion of Highway 14 drive home the importance of getting this project done as soon as possible,” said Kevin Raney, vice president of the Partnership and a member of the Owatonna City Council. “Southern Minnesota families and businesses serve an efficient highway that they don’t have to be scared to drive on. I want to thank the legislature and governor for taking this matter seriously and advancing it early on in the legislative session.”
When the funding for the project was approved last year in the Corridors of Commerce appropriation it was with the expectation that the first contracts could be let this year.
However, a question arose about the wording of the legislation and whether that wording would allow the funds to be released this year or if they would have to wait until 2021.
Minnesota Department of Transportation officials have said that passage of the technical correction would mean design work could still start this year with actual construction beginning in 2020. The highway could then be expected to open in late fall of 2021 with local road connections completed in 2022.
With the funding for the Owatonna to Dodge Center portion now secured, efforts will continue to fund the final portion of the highway.