Highway 14 is a medium priority interregional corridor. It is a critical transportation corridor connecting points in southern and western Minnesota to Rochester, and this segment connects two secondary regional trade centers - Mankato/North Mankato and New Ulm; therefore, present and future mobility, safety and access issues are addressed in an interregional corridor management plan. The scoping process for this corridor indicated that the future design for Highway 14 should be four lanes.
The 2012 Road Safety Audit (PDF 2.8 MB) / Road Safety Audit Summary (PDF 0.5 MB) confirmed that there is a problem on Highway 14 from Nicollet to North Mankato, particularly with head-on crashes. This information, along with performance data, indicates a need for a multi-pronged approach combining education, enforcement and a road solution. It has been determined that Hwy 14 between North Mankato and Nicollet will be expanded to four lanes beginning in 2017 or 2018. In the meantime, MnDOT has taken steps to address the safety issues between now and 2017.
The results of the RSA confirmed that roadway improvements alone will not address the safety issues along this corridor. The State Patrol continues with stepped-up traffic enforcement. This enforcement focuses on multiple driver behaviors: speeding, distracted driving, drunk driving and seat belt usage. MnDOT and the South Central Toward Zero Deaths Coalition will develop and implement education strategies. The goal of TZD is to eliminate deaths and injuries on all roads using a combination of four approaches: education, enforcement, engineering and emergency medical and trauma services.
Divided two-lane highway
In the fall of 2012 MnDOT constructed an innovative roadway design (PDF 0.5 MB) for $2.5 million that will stay in place until the four-lane expansion project is completed. It includes an eight-foot wide buffer in the center of the roadway with lane separators and rumble strips between traffic lanes, which is intended to reduce head-on crashes. MnDOT will evaluate this design for use along other Minnesota highways facing similar risks. In addition to the safety benefits, this design adheres to the principles of MnDOT’s new Corridor Investment Management Strategy program by deploying high return on investment approaches that meet regional priorities outside of performance-based criteria (e.g. roadway volume).
Four-lane roadway from North Mankato to Nicollet
A four-lane solution for Hwy 14 is intended to meet the long-term needs of this section of the corridor. To maximize efficiencies, MnDOT will reuse as much of the existing pavement and materials as possible during construction. The four-lane project will be let in 2017 or 2018, construction will begin shortly thereafter and will take about two years. Estimated cost: $20-22 million to east end of Nicollet. $31-33 million if Nicollet bypass is included.
MnDOT has identified U.S. Highway 14 as a priority corridor for the state. Highway 14 is a major east-west corridor for southern Minnesota, connecting New Ulm, Courtland, Nicollet, and North Mankato to one another and to regional centers in Mankato, Owatonna, Rochester, and Winona. Performing the study now will allow us to continue the momentum created by public involvement on previous studies for this corridor.
In May 2003, MnDOT completed a "Scoping Decision Document" for the US Highway 14 West (New Ulm to North Mankato) Interregional Corridor. Findings from that study included:
- Improvements to the US Highway 14 Corridor between New Ulm and North Mankato are needed to address issues related to safety, traffic congestion, increases in truck traffic and highway access.
- Several options exist for improving the highway corridor. Input received from citizens along the corridor was used to help identify the reasonable four-lane alternatives for future consideration.
- With a reduced list of reasonable alternatives, MnDOT should conduct an Environment Impact Statement study to identify the preferred alternative
MnDOT began working with agencies and the public to develop a broad range of alternatives over two years ago during development of the US 14 Scoping Document. Some “Scoping” alternatives were dismissed from further study based on public input, environmental considerations, consistency with local land use plans, and consistency with MnDOT’s performance goals and design guidelines. At the beginning of this current study, MnDOT developed several conceptual four-lane highway alternatives and interchanges based on the alternatives recommended for additional analysis in the Scoping Document. These alternatives were shared with a wide audience—including the public and representatives from agencies and local communities— to determine which alternatives to carry forward into detailed environmental review in the EIS. During the summer of 2004, a reasonable few corridors and interchange designs were identified for detailed environmental impact studies. As shown on the map above, this includes expanding most of the existing highway to four lanes. However, expanding US 14 through the cities of Courtland and Nicollet is not recommended because preliminary analysis showed that expanding through these cities would result in extreme impacts to homes and businesses with little transportation benefit.
The Draft EIS includes options for bypassing Courtland and Nicollet. Both cities have stated support for bypasses around their communities—Courtland prefers a northern bypass and Nicollet a southern bypass. MnDOT is not studying a bypass around New Ulm on the south side of the Minnesota River, primarily because past studies have shown that a bypass is not consistent with travel patterns in the area.
Staying on the existing alignment, except for the expected north bypass of Courtland and a close south bypass of Nicollet is the preferred alignment for an expansion of Highway 14 to four-lanes from New Ulm to North Mankato. Building four-lanes on the existing alignment west of Courtland (W1) creates some challenges, but the option of a new roadway on top of the bluff would be very costly to construct and maintain as well as cause significant impacts to farmland.
The north bypass of Courtland is the route the city has planned for several years.
The preferred route east of Courtland (E1) will require MnDOT to account for wetlands and coordinate with Swan Lake Wildlife Management Area, but dramatically reduces farmland impacts and better serves the city of Nicollet.
The preferred alignment is a consistent design (four lanes with limited access) with Highway 14 east of Mankato, improves travel safety by making the intersection with Highway 15 near New Ulm safer (a full interchange) and improves entrances to Courtland and Nicollet, and improves mobility to better serve increased traffic and the high truck count on Highway 14. Staying on the existing alignment minimizes impacts and reduces costs to maintain parallel routes.
Access to Hwy 14
The expanded US 14 will not provide private access to the highway. Instead, less direct access will be provided by a system of frontage roads, interchanges, and intersections. The Draft EIS discusses how each alternative would provide access to the expanded highway. At this time, drivers access US 14 from roads that cross the highway or from driveways on land abutting the highway. Highways with little or no access control—like existing US 14—are less efficient and have more safety problems than those with access control.
MnDOT is studying the potential for interchanges at locations that have experienced safety problems (see the map). Interchanges provide the safest means for traffic to enter and exit highways. Safety is generally improved because turning and crossing movements are removed, and because drivers access the highway from interchange ramps.
Impact on farmlands
At the Informal Open Houses held in July 2004, several people asked how this highway project will impact their farms—including access to fields and tile lines. This project will result in farmland acquisition and field severances. Farmers may also have to travel farther to get to their fields because there will be no private access to US 14. The Draft EIS includes a review of how each alternative would impact farmland.