Lee Zion • Lafayette Nicollet Ledger
Rep. Jim Hagedorn discusses funding for U.S. Highway 14. With him are, from left, State Rep. Paul Torkelson, New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman and State Sen. Gary Dahms.
Even though it’s been more than a half-century in the making, the announcement still came as a surprise. The federal Department of Transportation announced Sept. 10 that it had approved a $22 million grant for improvements to U.S. Highway 14.
The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant will help complete the section of highway from Nicollet to New Ulm. This and one other section, from Owatonna to Dodge Center, will create a continuous four-lane road from Rochester to New Ulm.
Rep. Jim Hagedorn said he was surprised by the Sept. 10 announcement. So he held what he called an “impromptu press conference” that afternoon, which he piggybacked onto a Republican Party meeting he had already scheduled at the New Ulm Event Center.
“I really would like to thank the Trump administration, of course Secretary Chao [Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao] and their team, and then a very bipartisan group here in Minnesota that helped us along the way,” Hagedorn said.
This included Gov. Tim Walz, MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Kelliher, and local legislators and officials.
Hagedorn said the project has been in the works for more than 50 years. It’s an honor for him to be there at the final stretch, for a project that’s about improving safety and assisting in transporting goods.
State Sen. Gary Dahms, District 16, agreed. He said at the press conference that his predecessor, Dennis Frederickson, had worked on getting U.S. Highway 14 completed for 30 years. He has worked on it for 10 years.
“It’s a great day to be here today to know that one more step has been completed. And we’re just that much closer to getting this project done.”
The next step is the engineering work. He’s looking forward to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he said.
State Representative Paul Torkelson, District 16B, said the project was a long time coming. He thanked Chao, Hagedorn and the Minnesota Department of Transportation for making the project a priority.
“We know how treacherous this road has been. And this will make this a safer road for this part of the state,” he said.
The project will also make it easier to move products through this part of the state, which is good not only for this area, but all of southern Minnesota, he said.
New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman echoed those sentiments at the gathering.
“This is just a fantastic day,” he said. “I think already once today I asked my wife to hold on to me because I was floating.”
Hagedorn said that the project could take a year or two to get started. That timetable is up to the state Department of Transportation.
He went on to say that the state is already fully behind the project. At a previous press conference, various state officials had said that they were committed to U.S. Highway 14 even if federal money did not come through. Now that the federal Department of Transportation has provided the BUILD grant, that makes the project “solid,” Hagedorn said.
The BUILD grant will also priovide $15 million for improvements for the U.S. Highway 10 bridge over Rum River, he said.
Other officials also cheered at the news. Walz said he had been pressing to improve the final 12 miles of two-lane traffic between Nicollet and New Ulm for years. That dates back to his time in Congress and the death of his neighbor in Mankato.
“As a former member of Congress from southern Minnesota, as someone who has driven countless miles on Highway 14, and as someone who has lost a neighbor on this road, this issue is personal to me, and it’s personal to everyone in this area of the state,” he said. “Highway 14 will not be safe until it is built out to four lanes, I am glad our partners at the U.S. Department of Transportation recognize this. Together, we will get this done, and we will save lives.”
Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher agreed.
“MnDOT is grateful that the USDOT has recognized the importance of completing these projects,” she said. “We’ve taken an ‘all of the above’ approach to funding the final expansion of Highway 14 between New Ulm and Nicollet, and with the long-time support of local advocates and allies and this new federal support, we will get this project done.”
The Rum River Bridge replacement in Anoka will improve mobility, safety and pedestrian access, and the BUILD grant funding will address future traffic projections and other challenges, she added.
Kelliher noted that earlier this year MnDOT announced it would apply for a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan through the Rural Project Initiative and Build America Bureau of the USDOT. Now that the state has its BUILD grant, that will reduce the amount of the TIFIA loan for which the agency will need to apply.
Kelliger said she anticipates that construction on this final stretch of U.S. Highway 14, and the Rum River bridge replacement, will both begin in 2022.
Rep. Jeff Brand
State Rep. Jeff Brand, whose district contains the dangerous stretch of road, said he welcomed the much-needed investment.
“For too long our community has been home to one of the deadliest highways in the state,” Brand said. “Today’s news is a victory for the tireless advocates and a testament to the determination of the folks at the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 7, who refused to let this opportunity pass us by. My hope is that this investment will soon be joined by additional federal funds, and that a safe and expanded Highway 14 will soon provide dependable transportation for our region.”
Brand noted that it was his legislation, passed by the Minnesota Legislature, which allowed the state to apply for the TIFIA loan for the Highway 14 project.