Lobbying for Highway 14 expansion continues

ST. PAUL – The Highway 14 four-lane expansion funding bill got a hearing Wednesday in the Minnesota House’s Transportation Finance committee.

The House bill, which has a companion bill that already received a hearing in the Senate, would allocate $409 million to complete the remaining portions of Highway 14 needing a four-lane expansion between Dodge Center and Owatonna and between east of Nicollet and New Ulm. The allocation, which would be put aside for five years, is approximately $22.6 million down from the initially proposed allocation after Minnesota Department of Transportation updated its cost estimate.

Advocates of the four-lane expansion project have sought a four-lane Highway 14 from Rochester to New Ulm for more than 50 years. The project addresses structural issues with the layout of the two-lane portions of the roadway that increase the danger of head-on collisions. An 2012 audit by MnDOT showed the stretch from North Mankato to New Ulm had a fatal crash rate three times the average for similar highways in the state.

The testimony supporting the project was primarily given by the membership of the Highway 14 Partnership, which lobbies for the project.

New Ulm Chamber of Commerce President Audra Shaneman said the four-lane project is essential for the more than 1,000 trucks that are affiliated with business and manufacturing in New Ulm. She said the two-lane portion near New Ulm adds burdensome costs to companies and hampers expansions for area manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, New Ulm businesses have had to adapt to an inadequate road, and I am here today to advocate for them and their future success,” said Shaneman.

The rest of the testimony focused on the road’s dangerous nature with an emphasis on personal losses.

Beth Hodgman of Wesst Concord testified that she lost her husband Scott to a fatal accident on Highway 14 on Nov. 6. The accident also took the life of a young boy who commuted to Rochester for cancer treatment. In addition, Hodgman’s parents and sister were involved in a serious accident in 2000.

“Highway 14 is a patchwork highway that’s been under construction since the late 1960s. How many more people must lose their lives until we find funding for this road?” said Hodgman, “On an average, somebody dies on this highway every two months.”

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill later this session. The related House bill, which also has a Senate companion bill, is also being held over for the omnibus bill.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at jmoniz@nujournal.com)

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