On Election Day, U.S. Highway 14 just west of Dodge Center in southeastern Minnesota claimed its latest lives (3) and seriously injured another person. This is an all-too-familiar story on that stretch of road. In fact, in a 2011 article, the Star Tribune dubbed this portion of Highway 14 the “Highway of Horrors.” Since the mid-1908s, over 150 people have been killed and countless others injured on U.S. 14 between Winona, MN and the South Dakota border. We have represented far too many surviving next-of-kin and seriously injured people to remain silent any longer.
U.S. Highway 14 carries major traffic and links significant portions of SE Minnesota, most particularly for our region, from Rochester to Mankato. The big problem: significant portions of this well-travelled highway are only two lanes and haven’t been improved for over 40 years. Between 2000 and 2005, 75% of all Highway 14 deaths occurred on these 2-lane stretches. The State of Minnesota has expanded 2 of the 5 major portions to 4 lanes and plans to continue that work in the future. But how far in the future seems to be the big question – and it all comes down to money. Appallingly, a rate of one death every two months hasn’t been enough to inspire a sense of urgency by the legislators in St. Paul.
The funding for the expansion hit a serious wall when then-Governor Pawlenty, burnishing his anti-tax credentials, vetoed the gas tax. With major pressure from Mankato area interest groups, Governor Dayton announced on June 26th that the stretch of 14 between North Mankato and Nicollet would be given priority – meaning construction would begin in 2017 or 2018. This does nothing for the residents and visitors who must use Highway 14 in our area – especially between Dodge Center and Owatonna.
What can be done? Putting pressure on the DOT is pointless because of the long cycle involved in planning, eminent domain, bonding and construction. Putting pressure on the legislature is the only way this thing is going to be handled. It is going to increase our taxes, either by a gas tax increase or by bonding, but we have to make the choice as to what we are willing to accept – higher taxes or more deaths and awful injuries on Highway 14.
Think about it.