It’s an optimistic time for the Southwest Corridor Transportation Coalition.
The group of local government officials, business leaders and concerned citizen advocates for transportation improvements in the region, including the expansion of U.S. Highway 212 to four lanes throughout.
Most regional centers in rural Minnesota have a continuous four-lane connection to the metro area. But McLeod County, a center for manufacturing and agriculture with a large commuting population, is one of the few exceptions. This has led county and local city employees and elected officials to join the cause.
“Safety is the No. 1 issue, but this is economic development for McLeod County,” said Doug Krueger, vice chair of the McLeod County Board. “We’re looking at a bottleneck for truck traffic in McLeod County and Sibley County.”
Local elected officials and advocates have been especially active in recent years, pushing for state funding to finish a four-lane gap between Norwood Young America and Cologne, and another section between Cologne and Chaska.
“The two-lane segments, built in 1930, struggle to serve the current traffic load,” said Minnesota Transportation Alliance executive director Margaret Donahoe. “Nearly 2,000 trucks per day travel the two-lane sections, causing significant risk to travelers.”
"Highway 212 is one of the most important economic and freight corridors linking our area to the Twin Cities metro area, and the metro area to points west," said Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen. "It serves as a critical gateway for businesses and farms throughout Minnesota, and notably in the southwestern metro area."
Krueger said Phase 1 of a two-phase plan may be underway in the next few years.
“Between the legislature, (Sen. Scott) Newman’s office, and what I’m hearing in the House and with Carver County stepping up to the plate, I’m confident,” he said.
Newman, a Hutchinson resident, is chair of the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
Krueger said lately the Metropolitan Council has shown interest in the project as well.
“We are actually being able to have a conversation,” he said. “There is a consensus to move forward more than there has been in a long time.”
Krueger has noticed the Metropolitan Council sees improving Highway 212 as a way to get more people to the light rail system, which has a station in Eden Prairie.
Carver County was recently awarded $7 million in federal funding for Highway 212 upgrades through the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board. The money will be added to the amount gathered so far for Phase 1, which covers the section from Chaska to Cologne. That leaves a funding gap of only $5 million for the $46 million project.
Phase 1 is slated for a 2022 construction start, according to a press release from Carver County. The county intends to ask MnDOT to fill the funding gap.
Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, has helped push for Highway 212 improvements during his tenure representing District 18B.
"I will continue to work on the final $5 million needed to complete 4 lanes between Chaska and Cologne," he said.
Carver County Commissioner Randy Maluchnik said work will continue to see funds for Phase 2 between Cologne and Norwood Young America and that the United States Department of Transportation BUILD and INFRA programs may offer opportunities.
Phase 2 is $38 million short of its expected $53 million price tag. It includes the Carver County Road 51 intersection, also known as Bongards intersection, which has a higher crash rate than U.S. Highway 12 west of Delano. Critical crash rates at the intersection and at the Carver County Road 43 intersection are higher than the state average. County Road 51 saw a fatal crash this past August.
A MnDOT resurfacing project for the segment is planned for 2020, as well as additional improvements to Highway 212 in Norwood Young America.