Duluth City Council OKs bonding for trailAnother ambitious expansion of Duluth’s recreational trail system is in the works, following the Duluth City Council’s decision to authorize up to $875,000 in bond funding for the project Monday night.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Another ambitious expansion of Duluth’s recreational trail system is in the works, following the Duluth City Council’s decision to authorize up to $875,000 in bond funding for the project Monday night.
But the idea of the city taking on more debt to expand its trail network also inspired fierce objections and harsh criticism.
While Councilor Jim Stauber said he enjoys trails as much as anyone, he asked: “So we’re going to increase taxes to pay for a trail when our streets are in shambles? I think we have our priorities backwards.”
David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, defended the request, noting that while the ordinance authorizes selling up to $875,000 in bonds, the actual amount needed probably will be between $450,000 and $470,000, as project specifications for a fence separating the trail from the freeway were redrawn, resulting in much more favorable bids.
Montgomery also pointed to state and federal grant money that would be leveraged with the local funds.
“We’re borrowing $450,000 to get $1.8 million of trail. That same $450,000 would get you $450,000 of street,” he said.
Councilor Dan Hartman described the trail project as a way “to get the most bang for our buck.”
Still, Councilor Garry Krause questioned whether the city could continue to spend on trails.
“I’m voting against this mainly because we’d be incurring more bonding debt when we already have a lot of debt on the table,” he said. Krause said the city has been unable to fulfill its obligation to properly maintain or else close community clubhouses that are highly valued by his constituents in the 4th District.
Hartman said Duluth’s network of trails serves not only as an amenity and tourist attraction but as a valuable transportation asset.
“As an increasing number of people commute by bike, it lessens the wear and tear on our streets,” he said.
By a 5-3 vote, the council authorized the bonding and awarded a construction contract for the project to Northland Constructors of Duluth LLC. Voting in the majority were Councilors Hartman, Sharla Gardner, Jennifer Julsrud, Patrick Boyle and Emily Larson. Councilors Stauber, Krause and Fosle voted in the minority. Councilor Linda Krug was absent from the meeting.
Monday’s action will allow work to begin next spring on the first phase of a new Cross-City Trail, connecting the Lakewalk to the Willard Munger Trail in West Duluth. This first segment will stretch 2.9 miles from Lake Avenue to the Heritage Center at 30th Avenue West. The project probably will take a couple of more years to complete.