City's missing link presents challenge
Finally, the city has a$2.5 million federal grant and an off-street route in mind for the Munger Trail extension through Duluth. But it will probably be another three years before a shovel strikes dirt on the long-awaited seven-mile bicycle and p...
Finally, the city has a$2.5 million federal grant and an off-street route in mind for the Munger Trail extension through Duluth.
But it will probably be another three years before a shovel strikes dirt on the long-awaited seven-mile bicycle and pedestrian link between western and eastern Duluth.
A lot of tricky work needs to be done first, such as finding more money, acquiring land and negotiating with railroad officials, city and state officials said.
``We are in the very preliminary stages of the process,' said Jim Benning, interim Duluth city engineer. ``We've only had one meeting with the MIC (Metropolitan Interstate Council).'
The Metropolitan Interstate Council is the federal government's transportation planning agency for the region. For the past several years, its planners and engineers have led the effort to develop a route connecting the state trail to the city's Lakewalk.
If and when the city comes through with plans to extend the Lakewalk, there will be one continuous paved bicycle and walking path from one end of Duluth to the other -- and beyond. The larger vision would have the Munger Trail eventually extend from the Twin Cities to Canada via other regional trails.
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-Chisholm, secured the money in last summer's five-year federal transportation spending bill. To get the money, the Duluth City Council must come up with a20 percent match, or $625,000.
``When it's done, this is going to rival Grandma's Marathon as an attraction for the city of Duluth,' said Oberstar, a bicycle enthusiast who also secured money for Iron Range and North Shore bike trails.
Oberstar, the senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said the popularity of bicycles continues to take hold across the country. They have an economic and healthful effect on communities, and Duluth has to seize on that, Oberstar said.
The current 63-mile paved trail from Duluth to Hinckley attracts 210,000 bikers, runners, walkers and inline skaters a year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Even with the federal and city money, there's some question about whether it will be enough to get the job done. The Metropolitan Interstate Council initially estimated the project would cost more than $5 million.
Starting last year, the city could begin receiving 20 percent of the money annually through 2009, Benning said. But federal officials said they would prefer the money not go toward land acquisition, which has further complicated an already-complex process, he said.
``There's just not enough money to build the whole thing,' said Andy McDonald, the MIC senior planner leading the project. ``Our goal is to get it all off street, but when or how is anybody's guess.'
The city first must figure out who owns property along the proposed route so they can begin negotiations to either buy it or seek easements, Benning said.
To keep it off the difficult hillside and dangerous city streets, the Munger Trail would hug the St. Louis River and bay next to active rail yards and industrial parks, along abandoned tracks, near the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District and under Interstate 35, according to a Metropolitan Interstae Council proposal.
City Councilor Russ Stover, whose 5th District includes the existing Munger Trail, said is imperative that the city find a way to build the extension.
"Everyone agrees this would be really good for the city," Stover said. "Everyone wants it. It will bring people into West Duluth. It will pay for itself."
Will Munger Jr., who runs his own hotel and the Indian Point Campground along the Munger Trail, said custromers ask him on a weekly basis how they can get downtown on their bicycles. The trail was named after his environmentalist father, the late Rep. Will Munger, DFL-Duluth.
Then there's also the question of who will own and maintain the nonmotorized trail. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is responsible for the Munger Trail, which allows snowmobile use outside the city limits.
But Jo Alberio, acting superivisor for trails and waterways for the DNR in Moose Lake, said the DNR's role has not yet been determined for the extension. The city would have to hand over ownership to the state in order for the DNR to become caretaker, he said.
Though it's slow going, progress is being made on the exteniosn, and it will be built, McDonald said. However, the trail might end up with the less-desirable solution of sharing space on the roads until a permanent fix can be found, he said.