The Marshall Independent

By Clay Schuldt

After decades of work from a bipartisan coalition, the final stretch of the U.S. Highway 14 expansion connecting Rochester and New Ulm with a four-lane highway is nearing completion.

This month, construction began on the 12.5 miles segment of Highway 14 from Nicollet to New Ulm.

In honor of the occasion, a groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday in Courtland that included members of the federal, state and local government. The event included Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Courtland Mayor Al Poehler, Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich and other state legislators.

Minnesota Department of Transportation District Engineer Greg Ous began the ceremony with a moment of silence for all those who lost their lives or lost families on Highway 14.

Ous said since the 1950s, people have dreaded traveling this stretch from Rochester to New Ulm, which has long been considered one of the most dangerous road segments in Minnesota.

Ous said a goal of the Highway 14 expansion was to connect communities, but it was ultimately about saving lives. This sentiment was cited by all who spoke during the ceremony. The economic benefits of expanding Highway 14 were a benefit, but safety was the primary goal.

Walz shared a story of losing a neighbor on Highway 14 and said many others had similar stories. He praised the different legislators, organizations and agencies that worked to complete the expansion of the decades.

“The work on this has been stunning,” Walz said. Few projects bring such support from federal, state and local governments.

Walz acknowledged it would be nearly two years’ worth of construction ahead before the road segment was complete, and the detours would be an inconvenience, but the project’s end was in sight.

Klobuchar credited the completion of the project to a $22 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

She said the expansion of Highway 14 was a 25-year project starting in Rochester. The infrastructure was badly needed, with roughly 9,000 vehicles traveling the roadway each day.

“Nobody knows better the need for this roadway than the people of this region,” Klobuchar said. “It is not acceptable to have a roadway this dangerous.”

Fred Froehlich, Nicollet mayor and vice president of the Highway 14 Partnership, said after decades of working on this project, many thought they would not live to see it completed and many did not live long enough to see it finished.

He praised the partnership for sticking together over the years to finish the project. Several mayors along the Highway 14 corridor have remained with the partnership, even after their road segments were complete.

He also thanked MnDOT for keeping the project shovel-ready to ensure each segment was completed as funding became available.

State Rep. Paul Torkelson praised the persistence of the Highway 14 Partnership and reminded everyone that safety concerns do not end when the road project was complete. He encouraged all drivers to avoid distractions.

He also said Highway 14 does not end in New Ulm, and encouraged the four-lane expansion to continue further west across the district.

Project contractor Jim Hoffman from Hoffman Construction also encouraged safety on the road during construction. He said this team was treating safety as an important factor. Drivers were encouraged to follow traffic laws in all construction zones.

The Highway 14 segment from Nicollet to New Ulm is scheduled to be completed in fall 2023. Targeted improvements along the corridor include constructing new interchanges in Courtland and Brown County Road 37 in New Ulm. Turning lanes, improved intersections and snow fences will also be part of the project.