Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hope for one of Minnesota’s most dangerous rural highways March 29, 2013

IF YOU EVER HAVE traveled U.S. Highway 14 west of North Mankato, you will understand why I am thrilled that something is finally being done to improve a small stretch—the 10 miles between North Mankato and Nicollet—of this deadly roadway.

Heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato late last Sunday afternoon.

Heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato late last Sunday afternoon.

Based on my more than 30 years of traveling Highway 14, I can unequivocally tell you that this rural roadway rates as dangerous. Think narrow lanes, heavy traffic, speeding, few opportunities to pass safely and too many drivers passing when they shouldn’t be.

Read this revealing information from the Minnesota Department of Transportation:

The U.S. Highway 14 corridor between New Ulm and North Mankato in Nicollet County recorded 250 crashes from 2006 to 2010. This overall crash rate is consistent with comparable rural state highways. However, 11 of those crashes had either a fatality or a serious injury, leaving this portion of Hwy 14 with a fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable rural state highways. Safety in the area from North Mankato to Nicollet and at the intersection of Hwy 14 and Hwy 15 north of New Ulm is of particular concern.

Did you catch that statistic? A fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable rural state highways. Impressive and scary, huh?

You'll see lots of semis traveling this stretch of rural Minnesota highway.

You’ll see lots of semis traveling this stretch of rural Minnesota highway. This recently-installed buffer strip now runs all the way between North Mankato and Nicollet.

In recent years, when traveling to southwestern Minnesota to visit family, my husband and I often have taken the “back way” to Nicollet from Faribault, passing through towns like Le Center, Cleveland and St. Peter, to avoid that horrible 10-mile stretch of Highway 14 from North Mankato. We’ve checked mileage and travel time and found both routes to be nearly identical.

Entering the construction zone, westbound on Highway 14 in North Mankato.

Entering the construction zone, westbound on Highway 14 in North Mankato.

But many times we still take Highway 14 between North Mankato and Nicollet. Now it’s a bit safer with a buffer, traffic sticks (to prevent passing) and rumble strips recently added between lanes. Those changes marked the first stage of efforts to make this area of roadway safer.

We were driving eastbound in this Highway 14 construction area in North Mankato when I snapped this photo.

We were driving eastbound in this Highway 14 construction area in North Mankato when I snapped this photo.

Sometime in 2017 or 2018, construction is expected to begin on a project which will extend the four-lane all the way from North Mankato to Nicollet. Finally.

That still leaves about 15 miles of dangerous Highway 14 travel between Nicollet and New Ulm.

Ten miles are a start in saving lives along this notorious rural roadway. But I, personally, will not be satisfied until the entire 25-mile stretch between North Mankato and New Ulm becomes a four-lane.

Highway 14 slices through agricultural land, as seen in this photo taken between Nicollet and Courtland.

Highway 14 slices through agricultural land, as seen in this photo taken between Nicollet and Courtland.

IF YOU’VE EVER driven Highway 14 between North Mankato and New Ulm, I’d like to hear your stories and thoughts about travel there.

To see the entire listing of 2013 MnDOT road construction projects slated for Greater Minnesota, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Hope for one of Minnesota’s most dangerous rural highways”

  1. hotlyspiced Says:

    Hi Audrey, I’m back after my two weeks of exile. It’s so good to be back. I’ve missed your blog and a lot of others too. We have some dreadful roads here too and you do wonder what it will take for someone to decide enough is enough and it’s time for something to be done xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Welcome back, Charlie. I’ve missed your, as always, entertaining posts. “Dreadful” would be an appropriate adjective for describing Highway 14.

  2. Bernie Says:

    I agree…I think it should be done sooner….crazy how busy that road is, so thankful I do not have to travel that road daily.

  3. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    Scary drive I do all the time. Way to many stories. I often go south of the river. Yesterday in that stretch I had a tailgater 10 feet from my bumper the whole way. But am glad for the divide.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I, too, am thankful for that divide. At least no crazies can pass for that 10-mile stretch. I feel for you needing to drive that area often. Stressful, for sure, especially with that tailgater.

  4. cecilia Says:

    We don;t have such a dangerous highway but often i take the back roads home to avoid those semis that want to run me down!! c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Pretty scary to have a semi riding your bumper. But most of the crazy drivers I see are not semi drivers. Last night we were nearly broadsided by a pick-up truck that blew a red light at a major intersection in our community. The driver had no intention of stopping as I estimate his speed at @ 45 mph. Fortunately my husband and I both noticed him just in time for Randy to slam on the brakes part-way into the intersection. It was a frighteningly close call, especially since our college son (whom we had just picked up) was also sitting in the back seat driver’s side. A few blocks later we met a police car, lights flashing, heading in the same direction as the speeding, law-breaking pick-up truck. Now we wonder if the pick-up driver was trying to escape the police or if this was merely a coincidence.

      Earlier in the evening we saw another driver blow a red light as we approached a different intersection in town.

      In December, a driver drove through a red light in St. Paul, hitting our daughter’s fiance’s car. Marc was not seriously injured, but his car was a total loss.

  5. Caryl Says:

    This is very scary to read, because our daughter goes to college in Mankato and drives that stretch everytime she comes home.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I didn’t mean to scare you. But, the fact is, this section of rural highway really is extremely dangerous. The buffer, rumble strips and traffic sticks seem like a great temporary solution for the 10 miles b/n North Mankato and Nicollet until the four-lane is built. I’d just advise your daughter to drive defensively and totally aware.

  6. SCARY – that road is scary when the weather is nice!!! The city I live in has an average of 300 road accidents a year with fatalities and recently an increase in pedesterian fatalities here. I try to drive focused and defensive. I had to take a defensive driving course for work – really helpful, especially driving around semis here because they can haul up to 3 trailers, which I think is nutso! Happy Friday – Happy Easter:)

  7. Allan Landman Says:

    What is the traffic count per day on Hwy 14? Hwy 8 from Forest Lake to Taylors Falls is very high and also a “death Alley” and no improvements there either. Too much of the taxpayers money goes to Welfare, schools, and special interest groups. The infrastructures suffer severely. Instead of the new “Zigi Center”, that money could have gone a long way to improve Minnesota Highways and other infrastructure. Zigi has enough money to redo every highway in the State. Yet the “Dome of Idiots” in St. Paul, chose the Zigi Center over the people of Minnesota.

  8. Erica Meister Says:

    I just clicked on here and read your blog on Hwy 14. I believe that I have been in this area several times in the past when we drove to south Dakota as a child and am aware of the Hwy you are talking about. Calling attention to this dangerous hwy is needed ! The story of the 5 boys driving on hwy 14 on March 7th ‘ I believe is part of the stretch of highway- you are talking about from Sleepy Eye , 4 of them have died and one is seriously ill. It breaks my heart these kids died . I hope they do something soon to improve this highway ..

    • You have the correct highway, Erica. Highway 14 is especially dangerous b/n Mankato and New Ulm given the high volume of traffic. Efforts are being made to improve the section b/n Mankato and Nicollet.

      Yes, the loss of those four young men nearly a week ago is horrible. I’m all too familiar with those curves right outside of Sleepy Eye as this is the route we follow to visit my middle brother and his wife in Lamberton. I worked, many years ago, as a newspaper reporter in Sleepy Eye, another reason I know that stretch of road. My thoughts and prayers have been with the families and friends of these men and also of the four Carleton College students who died a week prior in a crash near Northfield.

  9. I remember roads like that and some even two lane for hundreds of miles.

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