Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

So thankful for this newer & safer stretch of Highway 14 December 2, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2013.

IN MARCH 2013, I penned a post, “Hope for one of Minnesota’s most dangerous rural highways.” That would be US Highway 14, specifically between North Mankato and New Ulm.

Back then, I quoted 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? A fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable highways.

I don’t doubt those statistics and that assessment. For decades I’ve traveled Highway 14 to and from my native southwestern Minnesota. Heavy traffic, narrow lanes, and few opportunities to safely pass make this roadway particularly dangerous.

U.S. Highway 14 under construction between Mankato and Nicollet.

Barrels and signage guide motorists onto a detour in the final month of Highway 14 construction between Mankato and Nicollet. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

But now at least 10 miles of Highway 14 are safer due to the completion of a construction project which expanded the roadway from two to four lanes between North Mankato and Nicollet. Several years of putting up with detours was worth it.

Westbound on the new Highway 14 heading to Nicollet.

Westbound on the new Highway 14 heading to Nicollet.

For the first time Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I traveled on the recently-opened four-lane. It’s great. Simply great. As the smooth highway stretched before us, we considered how reassuring to have a median rather than rumble strips and pylons separating narrow traffic lanes. No worry about cross-over, head-on or rear-end crashes.

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

Lots of semis travel this stretch of rural Minnesota highway where rumble strips and pylons once separated lanes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

We considered how the traffic flowed rather than clogged. On the old two-lane, a driver traveling below the 55 mph posted speed or slow-moving farm equipment could back up traffic. And when drivers get impatient, they don’t always use good judgment.

The highway skirts Nicollet to the south. I wonder what impact this will have on businesses in this small town.

The highway skirts Nicollet to the south. I wonder what impact this will have on businesses in this small town.

As Mankato has grown, becoming a regional shopping and cultural destination, and as our society has become increasingly more mobile, traffic has continued to increase along Highway 14. The need has existed for quite some time to expand this roadway. It makes my occasional travel to the region faster, easier, safer. I can only imagine how grateful are those who live in this area.

The four-lane ends shortly after the exit into Nicollet.

The four-lane ends shortly after the exit into Nicollet.

Now, if funding would be appropriated to finish the expansion to four-lane between Nicollet and New Ulm, I’d be even more pleased.

West of Nicollet, signage warns drivers that Highway 14 goes back to two-lane.

West of Nicollet, signage warns drivers that Highway 14 goes back to two-lane.

But if it’s like the just-finished project, there will be decades of talk and multiple studies and crashes before that happens. Sigh.

© Copyright 2106 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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12 Responses to “So thankful for this newer & safer stretch of Highway 14”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    There is so much work (and money) that goes into road improvements. And politics at times as well. My brother is an engineer with ODOT and he has a lot of stories. It isn’t always easy to make things happen that seem to be obvious. Good news that you have a nice new stretch of safe highway to drive!

  2. Caryl Larson Says:

    That was a horrible stretch of road. We drove from Brookings to Mankato frequently while our daughter went to college in Mankato. Yes, it would be great if it went all the way to New Ulm. But now you have to exit to go to Schmidts Meat Market in Nicollet.

    • Some day, with funding from the legislature, the stretch from Nicollet to New Ulm will become four-lane. I hope.

      I, too wondered how this will impact the meat market. There’s a large billboard visible from the highway. I expect loyal customers will still shop there.

  3. Don Says:

    This is a nice change! Like so many roads in our country they were not able (especially due to funding) to keep up with changes in traffic. Old roads designed for model A’s aren’t able to keep up with increased traffic demands and speeds of our modern age. I remember certain highways around rural Minnesota that my parents would avoid and take an alternate route even if it was longer because of the number of accidents a particular road/highway had. Glad to see that these dangerous roads are being fixed. Too bad it is taking longer to do than we would like……………….

    • I know exactly what section of highway was particularly dangerous in your hometown area. So thankful that a four-lane now runs there also.

      My husband and I were discussing how long it would take to expand the four-lane to New Ulm. We figure a lot has to do with politics and who has the loudest voice.

  4. Don Says:

    Loud voices do work wonders!

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    Excellent news. I’m sure it’s making an incredible difference to everyone who has to travel along that highway. The traffic in Sydney is insane. They keep letting more and more people come here to live yet we’re slowing choking – suburbs that were once houses are being bulldozed for high-rise apartments and yet the little narrow streets and two-lane highways are not being upgraded and the whole city is practically at a standstill. It’s so bad now but I can’t imagine what it will be like in 20 years xx

  6. Good to hear that the road is improved. The little construction signs look like striped pencils


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