ST PETER — With the opening of a new Highway 14 bypass at Waseca, attention now turns to the upgrading of old Highway 14.
More specifically, who should pay for what to upgrade portions of the 19-mile stretch between Janesville and Owatonna.
Waseca County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation are haggling over what should be the appropriate level of repair on the aging road.
“The surface is bad. It’s cracked and bumpy,” said MnDOT District State Aid Engineer Gordon Regenscheid.
That much all parties agree on. At issue is how much “turnback” funding the county should receive from MnDOT to make repairs.
Turnbacks are funds MnDOT pays to local government entities when roads formerly maintained by the state are turned back to the local bodies.
Old Highway 14 effectively reverted to Waseca County when the bypass and the new four-lane Highway 14 to Owatonna opened Friday.
MnDOT and Waseca County are in agreement that the portions of old Highway 14 that bisect Janesville and Waseca should receive total reconstruction, including replacement of aged utility lines.
Rural segments of the highway between Janesville and Waseca and Waseca and Owatonna also need repair, and here’s where the two sides are at odds.
Regenscheid said MnDOT has offered to remove 3 inches of old surface and replace it with new, a la the recent upgrade to Madison Avenue in Mankato.
But the county contends that MnDOT’s $12 million turnback offer would result in an inadequate fix to a highway that will still receive plenty of punishing truck traffic.
“Just taking 3 inches off wouldn’t last worth a hoot,” said Waseca County Board Member Jim Peterson, who thinks that type of repair would be shortlived with the county having to pick up the tab for re-repair sooner rather than later.
Peterson said the county favors a 6-inch resurfacing to better absorb the beating from trucks. Accordingly, he and others think MnDOT’s offer comes up well short.
“We’re talking half the money we should be getting from the turnback.”
Waseca County Engineer Nathan Richman and County Administrator Laura Elvebak were unavailable for comment Monday.
MnDOT has given the county a deadline of Oct. 12 to come to an agreement, lest all expenses for repair to the highway fall upon the county’s taxpayers.
Richman told the Waseca County News that such a deadline is unprecedented. Regenscheid disagrees. “It’s our standard way of doing business,” he said.
Steele County, where a portion of old Highway 14 also lies, has been given a similar deadline after the County Board there also rejected MnDOT’s turnback offer.
Regenscheid said this is one of the longer turnback negotiations he’s been involved with in MnDOT’s south-central district.
Waseca County and MnDOT officials are scheduled to meet again Sept. 11.
Regenscheid said MnDOT’s goal is to start reconstruction/repair work in summer 2014, starting with the city of Janesville and an adjoining segment of Highway 14.
Plans call for work in the city of Waseca to begin in 2015 or 2016.