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Improve trail plan and grab the cash

Duluth Mayor Don Ness said Monday the plan for a Cross-City Trail through West Duluth’s Irving neighborhood “was not a good design.” Talk about an understatement.

Irving neighbors have been screaming far stronger sentiments this month to reporters, elected city leaders and anyone else who’d listen after they reviewed the designs for the 10-foot wide, multiuse, paved trail that would connect the Lakewalk, which ends now near downtown, to the Munger Trail in the western end of the city. The link, as designed, would pass quite closely to homes, follow stretches already congested with traffic, and cross freeway entrances and exits. Hardly safe for trail users, anyone near the trail or anyone living by it.

The Irving Community Club agreed, unanimously rejecting the concept. So did more than 80 people who signed a petition in opposition. And City Councilor Jay Fosle, never one to understate, called the plan “terrible.”

Not anymore, at least not if Ness gets his way. At a committee of the whole meeting Monday — meaning final votes couldn’t be taken by the city councilors there — Ness urged that the plans be shelved in favor of “(coming) up with the right concept and the right plan instead of charging ahead with something that feels wrong.”

Considering the shortcomings, taking another swing is the right thing to do — even if it means losing out on half a million dollars. It’s in the form of a federal grant the city won, but a federal grant that the city would have to forfeit if construction on the trail doesn’t begin this summer.

So that gives us, what, four months? Ness presented much of a proposed new route at Monday’s meeting. Getting a final route figured out and drawn out; the City Council, neighbors, the railroad, the paper mill and others on board; and shovels in the ground by about the end of August doesn’t seem as impossible a task as some are making it out to be. We just need to move at something faster than the speed of government to get construction started and to hold on to the $500,000.

Of course, if the task does prove impossible, Duluth could reapply for the grant or could apply for other federal grants. Already the city has won more than $3.2 million in state and federal grants toward the $3.7 million overall that’s estimated to be needed.

Do it right, as Ness urged. But do so quickly, and let’s not concede just yet that any federal assistance has to be sacrificed.