NICOLLET - Dozens of people attended an open house on the U.S. Highway 14 four-lane expansion project between Nicollet and North Mankato Tuesday at Nicollet Public School.
Hosted by the MnDOT District 7 office in Mankato, the event included MnDOT engineers and overhead maps of the project that will add two additional traffic lanes, separated by 90-foot recessed grass strips.
A final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), safety audits and an interim safety project (highway divider sticks) were completed last year on the highway from Nicollet to North Mankato. Meanwhile, extra law enforcement is ongoing, according to MnDOT.
Highway design/layout is scheduled to be done in 2014 and land acquisition in 2015.
Key issues behind the project are safety concerns at the intersection of highways 99 and 111 in Nicollet, a high fatality rate from Nicollet to North Mankato and increasing truck/commuter traffic that puts the road at risk for traffic signal proliferation.
The four-lane project from County Road 6 to the east edge of Nicollet has been funded. The Nicollet bypass remains unfunded.
A "high-end" Nicollet interchange with bridge and ramps at the intersection of U.S. 14 and Minnesota Highway 111 to the north and CR 23 to the south is estimated to cost $14 million. A "low-end" intersection without interchanges would cost several million dollars less.
Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich called the intersection with interchanges "the only viable solution."
"We've got lots of agricultural traffic crossing Highway 14 (in Nicollet)," Froehlich said. "Semis going to Lake Crystal, farmers hauling trailers and other traffic crossing a 70 mph road need a bridge over the highway. We're going to need more funding support from the Legislature to get it."
Zachary Tess, MnDOT District 7 Project Manager, talked about four and two-lane Nicollet bypasses estimated to cost from $10 to $29 million depending upon their design.
The four-lane highway project featured Reduced Conflict Intersections (RCI) where Highway 14 intersects county roads between Nicollet and North Mankato.
Studies show a 70 percent fatality reduction and 42 injury crash reduction where RCIs are used because T-bone crash figures are greatly reduced by RCI merging lanes, according to MnDOT.
Plus RCIs are designed and built in about one year compared to three to five years for conventional intersections, they're usually less expensive than a stop light intersection and much cheaper than an interchange, according to MnDOT.
A typical four-lane, divided highway has 42 possible vehicle conflict points, while RCI's reduce conflict points to as few as 18, according to MnDOT.
Motorists approaching divided highways are prohibited from making left turns or from crossing traffic at RCIs. Instead, they're required to make right turns onto highways, then make a U-turn at a designated median opening.
The Minnesota River bridge at New Ulm is scheduled to be replaced by MnDOT in 2018. A new Highway 14&15 intersection design, details to be arranged later, is scheduled to take place in 2018, MnDOT engineers said.
For more information, visit www.dot.state.mn.us/d7/projects/14newulmtonmankato/
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).