‘We must be heard’
Beth Hodgman continues pushing to make Highway 14 safer.
The West Concord woman spoke with reporters last week in Rochester, urging lawmakers to include funding for improvements on the highway, which shrinks from four lanes to two lanes between Dodge Center and Owatonna.
“There’s $106 billion in surplus, and I think that it’s time southern Minnesota gets our transportation needs met,” said Hodgman, whose husband, Scott, and two other people died in a car accident in 2012 on a two-lane stretch west of Dodge Center.
“For years we’ve stood by and watched the Minneapolis-St. Paul area receive funding after funding for their transportation needs, and we haven’t, and I think it’s time that it happens,” she said after speaking at Rochester’s city bus line headquarters. “We must be heard.”
Legislators are still negotiating on a transportation bill, said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-District 25, adding its passage is the main priority for Senate Republicans.
He said lawmakers differ on how much money would be allocated to the Corridors for Commerce program (see related article), which applies to transportation corridors with substantial commercial activity – including the area from Dodge Center to Owatonna.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he does not want to earmark specific highways for funding.
“It’s been problematic so far,” Senjem said. “It’s about as warm a climate for getting that done as it has been so far this session. I’m hopeful that all works out. It’s such a vital subject.”
Senjem said he knows two people who have died in accidents between Dodge Center and Owatonna – including Scott Hodgman.
They are among more than 145 people who have died in more than 110 accidents on Highway 14 since the mid-1980s, and more than 21 have died in 16 fatal crashes since 2000, according to the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership, formed in 1998 to expand the highway to four lanes from Rochester to New Ulm.
It said 75 percent of the deaths between 2000 and 2005 occurred on two-lane stretches.
THE GROUP INCLUDES cities, counties, townships, Chambers of Commerce, businesses and individuals impacted by U.S. Highway 14, according to ushighway14.com.
Members lobby at the state and federal levels to secure funding for the project and ensure public input into the expansion process.
Minnesota faces a $2.8 billion transportation funding shortfall in the amount needed for necessary repairs, which will lead to increasingly deteriorated and congested roads, said Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP, a national transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.
Moretti, who also spoke last week, said the state’s transportation system shortfall will increase from $400 million in 2018 to $800 million by 2021, according to a study by TRIP.
He said the travel statewide is increasing at about 2 percent a year, which reflects economic growth but is adding wear and tear to the transportation system.
“We also point out in the report very critically that in Minnesota, on the state’s rural roads, the traffic fatality rate is approximately 3 ½ times higher than on all other roads,” Moretti said. “And it’s critical that the state and local governments increase their investment to make sure that those roads are as safe as possible.”
He said he joined Hodgman in Rochester “because she has such a challenging but important safety message, and a very personal message, having lost her husband.”
“We felt it made the message more personal. We get away from statistics and talk to real people who have, unfortunately, been very much impacted by traffic safety,” Moretti said.
“I just want it to happen,” Hodgman said. “If Scott had to die, I wanted to make it for a reason. That something good can come of something so bad.”
Christian Holter, Rochester City Lines’ commuter services division manager, also spoke last week.
City Lines buses travel Highway 14 west from Winona, west to Byron, Kasson, Dodge Center, Claremont and Owatonna.
“It’s time to get this done,” Holter said.