Amongst the dignitaries, family members of victims and others who gathered at last week’s celebration, there was one man missing who had great influence in the roadway finally becoming four lanes.
Les Abraham of Owatonna served for many years on the Highway 14 Partnership. He joined the coalition shortly after being elected to the Owatonna City Council in 1996. He served as the president of partnership for four years. He left the group in 2017.
But his absence from last week’s opening doesn’t signal any less enthusiasm for what has been accomplished.“I’m elated,” said Abraham, who was sidelined with a stroke four years ago and suffers paralysis on his right side. “I’m glad that it’s done.”
Since the beginning, the partnership never once deviated from its goal of making Highway 14 four lanes from Rochester to New Ulm, Abraham said, noting only a small stretch from Nicollet to New Ulm is left.
“We got together with one goal and that was to get it done,” Abraham said.
He called the Highway 14 Partnership the “most powerful coalition” that has ever been organized in the state.
During the often-bumpy ride, Abraham testified several times before the Minnesota Legislature hoping to get the needed funding to widen Highway 14 from a deadly two-lane stretch into a safer four-lane roadway. “We tried to convince the people up there (state Capitol) to fix it,” he said. “We pleaded with them to get it done because we don’t need to get more people killed on one of the most dangerous roads in the state.”
And he never backed down.
“I knew it would save lives,” said Abraham. “It’s better for the community and the whole area.”
Abraham, 77, is still amazed that the four-lane roadway opened up last week. Quite honestly, he didn’t think it would ever get done.
He still remembers getting out of the military in 1968 and picking up the Owatonna newspaper, which carried a story saying Highway 14 would be four lanes by 1971.
As we all know, that didn’t happen.
“It just died,” Abraham said, adding “nothing happened.”
At about the same time, Highway 14 was being built around Rochester. A 13-mile stretch from Kasson to Rochester was completed in the early 1970s.
Abraham’s wife, Shirley, recalls being a little girl in the mid 1950s when her parents talked about the road being four lanes “in a couple years.”
“We dreamed, but we didn’t think it would come true in our lifetime,” Les Abraham said.
Added Shirley Abraham: “It’s a wonderful miracle.”
Just hours after the roadway opened last week, Abraham’s phone rang. It was a friend calling to thank him for his help over the years in getting Highway 14 done. She also didn’t waste time in letting him know that finally she feels much safer driving to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
During the groundbreaking ceremony two years ago, a lawmaker reached out to Abraham by tapping him on the shoulder, handing him a bottle of champagne and saying, “You did more on this than anybody else.”
But Abraham doesn’t care at this point who did what.
All that matters to him is that motorists will now be able to go in hot pursuit of a safer drive across southern Minnesota.