IT'S A GO
As Minnesota’s governor signed the bonding bill last week, a cloud of uncertainty that loomed for more than 25 years had finally been lifted off southern Minnesota. U.S. Highway 14 will finally become a continuous four-lane stretch between Rochester and Mankato.
The last part of the highway project between Dodge Center and Owatonna is slated to begin construction next spring when it will become four lanes.
Governor Mark Dayton approved a $1.5 billion bonding bill that includes about $400 million in additional funding for the state’s Corridors of Commerce project.
The ink had barely dried from the governor signing the bill when the Minnesota Department of Transportation turned around and immediately announced three additional projects, including Highway 14, would begin construction as early as next year. The project to expand Highway 14 is expected to cost around $160 million.
Bids will be let out on the project next March with construction likely starting in the spring of 2019. The project will likely take two or three years to complete.
“We are excited and grateful that Gov. Dayton has signed the 2018 bonding bill into law,” said Karen Foreman, president of the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership. “Highway 14 has caused us a great deal of heartbreak over the years. The funding in this bonding bill turns some of that heartbreak into hope and opportunity,” she said.
Foreman said Highway 14 has become synonymous with deaths, injuries and impeded economic growth. “While our work is not done until we can drive on four lanes all the way from Rochester to New Ulm, the incredible progress this bill will make is vital and sorely needed,” she added.
At a press conference May 31 at Al-Corn Ethanol Plant located next to Highway 14 in Claremont, legislative leaders popped the champagne in celebration of their long-last victory. “It’s a good day for southern Minnesota and transportation,” said Senator Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who played a key role in getting the funding through the legislature. “It’s a dream that has been waiting a long time. I’m just elated,” he said.
Highway 14, Senjem said, has been on his to-do list during his entire political career, which spans 16 years. “To finally complete it is a pretty fulfilling accomplishment,” he said.
Senjem, along with other area Republican lawmakers, worked feverishly within the past few months to figure out funding for Highway 14. The initial funding package failed in the closing weeks of the session, but Senjem came right back to find another creative way of getting it to the governor’s office.
Senjem isn’t the only lawmaker feeling relief over Highway 14’s victory.
“As a private citizen, I remember feeling discouraged by the numerous failed attempts to get this done by previous state senators,” said Senator John Jasinski, R-Faribault. “That’s why when I was elected two years ago I made it my highest priority. I am beyond thrilled. The Highway 14 expansion will save countless lives.”
State representative John Petersburg, R-Waseca, said, “An improved Highway 14 is so critical to our region. Not only is it a good way to help with commerce flow—whether it’s bringing crops to market or goods to communities—but it better ensures the safety for the thousands of drivers who use the road every day.”
Senator Senjem applauded Jasinski for his efforts with finally getting Highway 14 funded. “It seems like every third word in Senator Jasinski’s vocabulary is Highway 14,” Senjem said. “Hardly a day went by that I didn’t get a call from John pressuring me about it. He has been a strong and powerful voice. It would not have gotten done without Senator Jasinski’s persistence.”
The bonding bill also included $178 million for asset preservation, $123 million for water-related projects, $208 million for higher education construction, $32 million for veterans homes in Preston and elsewhere and $28 million for mental health crisis centers.