MnDOT spends nearly $1 million to spruce up an abandoned rest stop a report called ‘dangerous’

It may not be in the same league as the Golden Turkey award-winning $7.2 million Goose Creek Rest Stop recently recognized for wasteful spending by American Experiment and its supporters.

Somebody thought it was a good idea to spend $7.2 million on curved glass and exotic Brazilian wood instead of road and bridges,” said John Hinderaker, President of Center of the American Experiment. “As long as politicians keep spending our money on wasteful projects like this luxurious rest stop, American Experiment will keep handing out Golden Turkeys.

But an abandoned, weed-infested old-fashioned roadside pull-over on MnDOT’s to-do list on Highway 14 in southern Minnesota may deserve consideration in its own right.

The New Ulm Spring Roadside Parking Area was closed to drivers in 1971, a relic of Depression-era public works projects. Despite years of trying, MnDOT’s hopes of adding New Ulm Spring to the National Register of Historic Places haven’t panned out.  

But it’s full speed ahead on the restoration, despite a consultant’s 1998 report that found the rest area to be “dangerous” due to its outdated design and perilously close location next to the heavy volume of vehicles whizzing by on the highway.

Because of the speed and close proximity of the adjacent traffic and the topography, it is dangerous to enter and leave the site. The pull-off is very shallow and very close to the northbound lane of T.H. 14.

There’s not a lot to it, just a 156–foot long red quartzite wall, stone bench, fireplace and two sets of steps. But the project manager, Andrea Weber, expressed surprise over how well the site has held up over the decades to the Mankato Free Press.

“For the wall to be in that good of condition with basically no maintenance is just remarkable,” she said. “We’re still trying to figure out how they did it so well back then.”

Not surprisingly, however, MnDOT had no difficulty figuring out how to burn through nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds to spruce up the wayside rest anyway. The agency broke it down in a news release.

The 2021 project includes repairing the stone wall, walk, parking area with a new curbed island and right in/right out access. Two picnic areas up the slope will be restored with a natural surface trail connecting them and a new accessible picnic table will be added near the stone wall. Interpretation, and improving accessibility will be included.

Reading between the lines, the consultant’s report implicitly acknowledges the price tag could climb higher if construction uncovers evidence of native American culture.

This property may require further evaluation for potential archaeological resources.

Meantime, work has already gotten underway on the pullover. Crews were out in February cutting down trees used by bats in order to save the bats, according to the news release.   

The New Ulm Spring Rehabilitation project will take place later this summer, but the clearing of trees on the hillside needs to take place before protected bats make their homes.

UPDATE: In response to my email inquiry, MnDOT Historic Roadside Property Program Manager Andrea Weber said the agency has taken steps to address safety concerns.

The elements of this project design are intended to increase safety at this historic site – including adding back a curbed island between the shoulder and rest area, which will provide a buffer for visitors. The site will also include one-way entry, with angled entry back on to the highway for better sightlines.