‘Safety can’t wait,’ let the expansion begin
The shovels flew with dirt Friday as local, state and federal leaders marked the ceremonial beginning of the Hwy. 14 expansion between Dodge Center and Owatonna.
This is a long time a coming. Nearly 40 years to be exact. That’s right some people have been pushing for almost four decades to improve the dangerous two-lane stretch that has become notoriously dubbed, “Highway of Horrors.”
As a regular traveler of the highway, the expansion to four lanes can’t come soon enough. When I venture across Hwy. 14, I can’t help but think about all the tragedies that have taken place over the years. Many of them I have covered as a journalist. It’s such a sickening feeling to know so many lives have been lost in such a small stretch of roadway.
It’s ironic that the sentencing for one of the most recent tragedies will take place within days of the groundbreaking for the Hwy. 14 expansion. Tanner Kruckeberg will be sentenced today (Wednesday) in Dodge County District Court for causing the deaths of Rachel Harberts, a Blooming Prairie school teacher, and her daughter, Emerson, in September 2018. The crash also critically injured her son, Jaxon, who is recovering, but will face a lifetime of pain and anguish.
The Harberts tragedy is just one of a long list of horrors that have taken place along Hwy. 14. Another one is the death of Scott Hodgman of West Concord. In that crash, Scott wasn’t the only victim. Two others, including a young boy, also died. Since the tragic deaths in 2012, Scott’s widow, Beth, has been fighting to bring some sanity to those involved with making decisions to improve the roadway. “Safety can’t wait,” Beth has repeatedly said over the past seven years.
At Friday’s groundbreaking, Hodgman told me that her whole life was torn apart in a matter of a second when her husband was killed. “It’s sad we lost him,” she said. Less than a year after her husband’s death, Hodgman began lobbying state lawmakers to get Hwy. 14 expanded. It was a hard fought battle, and Hodgman says she never thought the day would finally come for the expansion.
Hodgman’s efforts, among those of many others, have finally paid off.
Local senator Dave Senjem, formerly of Hayfield, has also been instrumental in finding the funds to expand the 12.5-mile stretch that has caused so much heartache for so many families. The Minnesota Department of Transportation recently awarded the bid for the project to Shafer Contracting for just under $108 million. Construction will begin in earnest next spring and should be completed by 2022.
Nothing will ever bring back the lives of the Harberts, Hodgman and so many others, but once the Hwy. 14 expansion is completed, there will finally be a real sense of peace knowing that the road is safer to travel for everybody.
Hodgman is right on the mark. Safety can't wait. Let’s go in hot pursuit of letting the dirt fly, though it has been far too long to see this moment come.