On Monday, the Duluth City Council will take up a resolution to award a nearly $1.9 million contract to Ulland Bros. Inc. for the continuation of work on the Cross City Trail, with the addition of a segment dubbed the River Route.
The project would extend the trail for another 2 1/2 miles from its current western terminus at Carlton Street, near the Duluth Heritage Sports Center. It would pass under the ore docks and over the freeway, then along the industrial riverfront and past the Verso Paper plant en route to Irving Park.
Carlton-based Ulland Bros. Inc. proffered the lowest of five bids the city received — $1,897,100 — but that was still about 11% higher than the original estimated cost of the project.
"It's a very tough bidding environment for everyone, and we were not surprised that it came in over estimate. In fact, we were a bit relieved that it wasn't worse," said Jim Filby Williams, the city's director of public administration.
Nevertheless, in light of the greater-than-anticipated cost, he said the city plans to scale back its plans for the finished trail, nixing a proposed future connector link between the Lake Superior Zoo and the Willard Munger State Trail Trailhead.
The proposed finished trail would still enable users to reach both the zoo and the Munger Trail but there would be no direct link between those two destinations under the revised plan.
"We defunded that connection in order to fully fund this more-important leg," Filby Williams said.
Funding for the pending trail construction will come from federal, state and local sources, with the city's share of the investment coming from a half-percent tax on local hotel stays and sales of food and drink at bars and restaurants. The proceeds of that surtax have been legislatively earmarked specifically to fund recreational amenities along the St. Louis River corridor.
If the Duluth City Council approves the Cross City Trail extension Monday, work on the project will begin this spring and should be completed or near completion by the end of this year.
Plans call for the asphalt path to be 10 feet wide with a one-foot shoulder on both sides.
Assembling the needed easements for the trail was no small feat, according to Filby Williams.
"It's a fantastic route that nobody — including me — thought we could figure out how to use, and it's a great credit to a lot of hard-working people and organizations that we made it work," he said, noting the efforts of Friends of West Duluth Parks and Trails, including member Mike Casey in particular, Verso, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, Canadian Pacific, Canadian Northern and city staff.
"Together these folks really pulled a rabbit out of the hat," he said.
One of the most challenging aspects of the route occurred at what Filby Williams called "a pinch point between I-35 and the Verso property." He said the cooperation demonstrated by Verso and MnDOT to navigate the path through that area was "really really extraordinary."
Besides providing users with a unique perspective of Duluth's working waterfront, Filby Williams said it also will take people past the Erie Pier Ponds, which will be the site of a large contaminant remediation/ecological restoration project in the next few years.
"So, a couple of years after the trail is completed, the adjoining waterway will be substantially improved, and we'll be looking for opportunities to provide for folks to connect to and enjoy and linger at that riverfront location," Filby Williams said.
But just as the new section of trail comes online, the completed portion of the Cross City Trail that runs through Lincoln Park will be temporarily displaced, as MnDOT undertakes work to reconfigure a complicated highway interchange known locally as the can of worms. During the interim, the path will be temporarily rerouted along Superior Street. The Toole Design Group continues to work on a final design of this temporary route. In fact, the council will take up another resolution Monday authorizing a $12,920 increase in the firm's contract, not to exceed a total of $81,640 in its revised form. Duluth will seek a reimbursement for the cost of the reroute from the state.
Looking ahead, Filby Williams said the city has secured another $600,000 grant — to be matched with local dollars — that will be used to extend the Cross City Trail from Irving Park to Keene Park and perhaps part of the way down the Burlington Northern right-of-way below Grand Avenue in 2024.
He said additional funding and route planning will be needed to reach the Munger Trailhead.