As trucking company pointmen in southern Minnesota, Wade Volk and Brady Gaalswyk had the same problem seven times over the last 20 years when the Minnesota River flooded, closing Hwy. 169 north of Mankato.
"It was a nightmare any time it flooded and you had to detour," said Volk, operations manager for Mankato-based Volk Transfer, a 35-truck outfit that hauls everything from medical parts to soda pop. "You're talking miles out of route, late deliveries, late pickups, angry customers and added expenses."
That why he was "ecstatic" when he learned the federal Economic Development Administration was pumping a $9.8 million grant into a three-year, $25 million project to raise Hwy. 169 by more than 5 feet in some stretches between Mankato and St. Peter. It's believed to be the largest economic development grant ever given to Minnesota for such projects, according to Nicole Griensewic, director of the Region Nine Development Commission. Her agency teamed up with state transportation officials to secure the federal grant. She said EDA grants seldom top $1.3 million.
"Highway 169 is a major vein, if you will, connecting the agriculture growing in southwestern Minnesota to the markets in the Cities," said Gaalswyk, dispatcher for Gaalswyk Brothers Trucking Co., which has 30 trucks hauling soybeans, corn and feed from Trimont, Minn. "The floods were definitely a hassle because it's essentially our duty to get our commodities there, so the extra miles and time came directly out of our pocket."
Without the $9.8 million federal infusion, MnDOT project manager Zak Tess said there would only be enough money for a minor preservation project in the southbound lanes of Hwy. 169 along the 9 miles between St. Peter and Mankato. Now, workers will be able to raise 3 miles of the road between 3 and 5.5 feet in four spots where the Minnesota River spilled over its banks, prompting seven closures since 1993.
The bulk of the work will come in 2016, but some of Hwy. 169 will be raised between St. Peter and LeSueur next year and a new bridge is planned for nearby Hwy. 22 south of St. Peter in 2015.
State Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, said he "jumped up and down a little" after learning about the new federal grant.
The grant application pointed to all the hogs, soybeans and ethanol, not to mention school buses and ambulances, that rely on Hwy. 169.
"It's an important link to our little part of the world," Johnson said.