By Rachel Leingang
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar toured U.S. Highway 14 from Rochester to New Ulm on Wednesday to highlight the need for a safer corridor and discuss upcoming construction on the highway.
As part of the initial phase of the "Corridors of Commerce" project, construction starts on a 3-mile stretch of U.S. 14 from Owatonna toward Dodge Center on July 1.
The tour stopped in Rochester at Piepho Moving and Storage, which has multiple locations along U.S. 14.
Klobuchar said the combination of cars and trucks on the highway means the need for an expanded four-lane roadway is great.
"The thing that I first think about with 14 is safety," she said. "I don't have to tell people here how dangerous it is."
The Corridors of Commerce project awarded $300 million to 10 construction projects across the state. Three involve U.S. 14: an expansion from North Mankato to Nicollet, a Nicollet bypass and the first phase of the Owatonna to Dodge Center route.
The initial Owatonna phase will cost $16-20 million, but the full route to Dodge Center will cost an estimated $200 million. That full expansion is not funded yet.
"The Corridors of Commerce from the state is just a down payment," Klobuchar said. "The hope is to get more state and federal funding for the rest."
Klobuchar said the short-term construction jobs will add to the economy, but that's only the beginning.
"In the long run, it's about keeping those businesses (along U.S. 14) strong," she said.
Rochester City Council member Michael Wojcik recognized the diversity of businesses and interests on the highway, from trucking to breweries.
"We understand if we're going to get this done we have to work together," Wojcik said.
Since the rest of the Owatonna to Dodge Center project isn't financed yet, Klobuchar said she'll work with Congress to get the money.
"The problem is we can't do federal earmarks anymore," she said. "I would earmark this in a minute."
With earmarks out of the picture, Klobuchar said federal grants and allocations, as well as a state focus on highway projects, could round out the funding.
"We can still work to get as much federal money into Minnesota as we can," she said.
Minnesota Department of Transportation commissioner Charlie Zelle said he hopes to work with the Legislature during the next session to keep advancing highway improvement projects.
"It's pragmatic. It's practical. It's dollars and cents," Zelle said.