State and local lawmakers broke ground Tuesday morning on the Highway 14 expansion, a project decades in the making.
Minnesota Department of Transportation District 7 engineer Greg Ous kicked off the ceremony in Courtland by asking for a moment of silence for the victims who lost their lives on the busy highway, which was the site of a number of deadly crashes over the years.
“This is the final stretch,” Ous proclaimed as the silence ended. His comment was met with vigorous applause from the crowd, which included Governor Tim Walz, who traveled to southern Minnesota for the ceremony. Ous said he has been working on Highway 14 since he started at MnDOT in 1998. He said a four-lane Highway 14 from Rochester to New Ulm has been a longtime dream for the region. He also recognized the hardships of those who had to sell land to make the project a reality.
Governor Walz told a personal Highway 14 story, talking about the day two state troopers walked into a gym where he was coaching basketball practice. They delivered the news to a 7th grader that his father – also Walz’s next door neighbor – had died in a crash on Highway 14. Walz thanked the local, state, and federal advocates that worked together to get the project funded.
Senator Amy Klobuchar said the old highway, which supported a “dangerous” 9,000 vehicles per day, was unacceptable for southern Minnesotans.
Senator Tina Smith said the project was a great example of the power of local, state, and federal partnerships. “This is the kind of infrastructure problem, frankly, that President Biden’s infrastructure and jobs act is here to fix.”
Courtland Mayor Al Poehler recalled going to the state capitol to push the expansion, but he said he believes it was really a visit from the transportation committee to Courtland that drove the point home. He recalled standing on Main St by the former bank as traffic whizzed by the group, traveling well over the speed limit, the noise impeding conversations among the participants. “Someone was late,” he remembered. “[That person] was on the other side of the road and couldn’t get across. We actually stopped traffic to walk across.” Poehler talked about how Courtland residents witnessed dangerous highway activity daily, such as drivers passing within city limits.
Nicollet Mayor and Highway 14 Partnership Vice President Fred Froehlich said the day was “decades in the making.” Froehlich said many of the advocates didn’t expect to live to see the project to completion. He credited the partnership for keeping the project at the forefront of discussion at the state capitol.
Jim Hoffman of Hoffman Construction, the project contractor stressed safety for highway workers, highlighted by the bright construction gear he wore to the ceremony.
The 12.5 mile project will expand the highway from two to four lanes between Nicollet and New Ulm. The highway will be bypassed around Courtland with an interchange added at Nicollet Co Rd 37 near New Ulm. Completion is slated for fall 2023.