Last Friday, Nov. 1, was a date that thousands upon thousands of southern Minnesota residents have been looking forward to for a very, very long time. Decades after the idea was first borne, we finally, finally, finally broke ground on the long overdue Highway 14 expansion between Dodge Center and Owatonna.
It’s no secret how much this issue means to me. As a private citizen, as a city council member, and as mayor of Faribault I watched year after year end in disappointment as the project was repeatedly left on the sidelines.
It’s why I ran for the Senate in the first place. I made a commitment to finally deliver Highway 14. I talked about it at every single door and in virtually every meeting. The plates on my Dodge Ram even read “HWY 14.” (Don’t believe me? Mention it next time you see me around town or visit St. Paul and I’ll gladly show you!)
Folks I meet around the Twin Cities or at the capitol often ask me why, of all the items on the state’s to-do list, I have made Highway 14 my number one issue. I don’t blame them for not understanding. They don’t live here; how could they?
Those of us who do live down in this neck of the woods understand the urgency full well. There is a reason it has long been called the “Highway of Horrors,” and why it has a reputation as the most dangerous road in Minnesota. Almost 150 people have died on the road in the last 30-plus years, and hundreds, if not thousands, more have been hurt. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have a personal experience with Highway 14. Maybe you have a relative or close friend who was in an accident. Maybe you were in one yourself. Or maybe you have just had a close call… or two… or 20.
The point is, people in our area have been waiting a long, long time for this. I am proud to say we got it done during my first term in office.
Here’s what will happen next:
• The groundbreaking took place Friday, but full construction will begin next summer.
• The 12.5 miles of two-lane road between Owatonna and Dodge Center will be expanded to four lanes.
• Shafer Contracting Co. won the bid for the project, which will be about $138 million after engineering, construction, and other ancillary costs. We planned for $160 million, so the expansion will even be $22 million under budget!
• The project is scheduled to be completed by 2022, but traffic will be on the new route in 2021.
When all is said and done, Highway 14 will be significantly safer, travel times will be faster, and it will be able to handle more commuter and commercial traffic. In other words, it will be better in every conceivable respect.
At times, the Highway 14 expansion effort has made us all feel frustrated, hopeless, angry, desperate, and everything in between. I know several people who even gave up hope a time or two, as if continuing to believe we could get this project done was tantamount to chasing rainbows.
At Friday’s groundbreaking, all I could think about was that it was all worth it. The rollercoaster of emotions, the hard work, the energy, and the intense public pressure from you, the citizens who are most affected — all those things got us to this point. Give yourselves a pat on the back. We finally did it.
Now we celebrate.