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A bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce


Success story: Raise the Road

September 2015 Newsletter

Images of the flooding and damage caused by floods on Highway 169 in Minnesota

Albert Einstein once said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The same wisdom can be applied when it comes to repairing flood damage to a road that has been built in the path of a flood plain. Sure, you can keep repairing the damage each time the flood waters recede, but that doesn’t leave you in any better position the next time it happens. Much like you have to raise your level of consciousness to solve a problem, you need to raise the level of the road out of the reach of flood waters.

Minnesota ranks third in the nation for production of corn, soybeans and ethanol among all states. Counties located within Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) District 7 produce almost half of Minnesota's corn, soybeans and ethanol. The majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the district is shipped via truck to Mankato. From there the freight is shipped on U.S. Highway 169 to its final destinations.

When U.S. Highway 169 in Minnesota kept flooding, resulting in disruptions to transportation, commerce, and daily life, it posed a major problem. Highway 169 serves the major transportation corridor for funneling freight within the region, but its proximity to the Minnesota River makes it prone to flooding in the spring as snow melts and river water rises. When these highways were originally constructed in the early 1960’s, water elevation assumptions for the area proved to be inaccurate. In late September and October of 2010, the river flooded and nearly 140 feet of highway collapsed, requiring that additional detours be created and emergency repairs be made. In May 2011, the road flooded again. In fact, there have been seven road closures due to flooding since 1993.

The Region Nine Development Council (RNDC) recognized that something needed to be done. Repairing the road after flooding would just be a band-aid – a temporary solution that wouldn’t fix the underlying problem. The solution was to raise the road out of the reach of the flood waters, but it would be a massive undertaking and an expensive proposition. RNDC did some research and learned that EDA was offering disaster recovery grants.

Partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, RNDC was able to demonstrate how southern Minnesota faces a true economic development disaster whenever Highway 169 floods, since most products are still moved by truck and were awarded a $9.8 million grant in 2012 to help fund the raising of the highway.

The construction project, which will start in 2016, runs from Mankato to St. Peter and includes three main elements: nine miles of the four-lane highway will be resurfaced from north of Highway 14 to St. Peter’s south side; a center barrier will be added for the whole section to prevent head-on collisions; and four low-lying sections of the highway will be raised several feet so that the highway can stay open despite rising water levels during floods.

Caption below
Map showing detour route and where the construction will take place. Source: MNDOT

It’s estimated that the project will create 500 new jobs and help retain 500 existing jobs over the next nine years as well as generate $10 million in private investment.

“This project is vital to sustaining and growing the economic prosperity of southern Minnesota,” said Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, Executive Director of RNDC. “We are grateful to EDA’s support and proud to be a part of a lasting solution to what has been an ongoing problem.”

Once finished, this corridor will no longer be vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of the Minnesota River. Thanks to RNDC’s solid planning, partnership efforts, and – perhaps most importantly – different thinking, commerce will no longer be threatened by flooding.