As captured by the News Tribune’s Jan. 26 article, “Citizens lean on Duluth to rethink Cross-City Trail plans,” a public meeting held on the topic was fraught with frustration from both residents and city staff.

The residents vocally expressed opposition to the city’s plan to use current funding to build “Segment 3” (across Highway 23/Grand Avenue and up the hill 100 vertical feet from Irving Park to the Fairmont trail, creating a 1.1-mile detour) instead of “Segment 6” (which would connect Irving Park on a level, safe, and direct route to the Munger trailhead).

For more than 40 years, citizens have been asking for the Cross-City Trail to be built below Grand Avenue as the safest, most-direct non-motorized route for all ages and abilities. It would connect western Duluth with the rest of the city all the way to Brighton Beach in the east.

The primary planning document for the Cross-City Trail, the mini master plan, states in its “Priority and Phasing” section that, “Segment 6 holds the highest priority for future investment for the City and for the community.”

During the January meeting, the city’s first professional transportation planner tried to justify prioritizing the completion of Segment 3, which would connect the trail from Irving Park to the Fairmount trail above Grand Avenue, because it would complete a very small portion of the lower route’s connection to the Munger Trailhead below Grand Avenue (Segment 6). The words “wrong project” were used in response to the city continuing to push for this segment above Grand Avenue, when public input and planning documents indicate the desire to first build the segment below Grand Avenue (Segment 6). City staff probably did not mean to say that Segment 3 is the wrong segment to be focused on now, but it clearly is for the residents.

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The question is, why? Why does the mayor apparently continue to send her staff members out to advocate for Segment 3, only for them to face the exasperation of citizens? While it is clear Mayor Emily Larson does not feel ownership of the mini master plan, created under the previous administration, she is obligated to either implement it or transparently revise it with public input. Instead, the mayor continually seems to assign her talented staff, stretched thin, to find a way to connect Irving Park 100 feet uphill and across Grand Avenue to the Fairmont Trailhead on the apparent premise that some of this route will benefit the lower Segment 6 route to the Munger Trailhead.

One of the mayor’s arguments against prioritizing Segment 6 has been that it is not possible to acquire the railroad spur from BNSF. This premise may not be true if a route other than the vacant BNSF railroad spur is used for the lower route.

These routes have their challenges, but they can be overcome as the city did for Segment 2 (the “River Route”) from Carlton Street to Irving Park. It had many impediments, but once the citizens spoke and the plan was approved, the city’s engineering, property, and parks departments went to work and overcame them. All it seemed to take was for the mayor to say “do it,” and the staff took it from there to get it done. The River Route was built last year.

Therefore, the Friends of Western Duluth Parks and Trails and other transportation advocacy organizations believe it is now time, more than ever, with money hyper-tight, for transportation funds to be spent on projects with broad public support. The Cross-City Trail is intended to serve the residents of Duluth and the region with what they have requested and need. The city needs to assign its talented staff to the Cross-City Trail’s last segment, which needs to be built in order to complete the public’s vision and the people’s trail — that is, the lower route, Segment 6. It needs to be built now.

Mike Casey is chairman of the grassroots Friends of Western Duluth Parks and Trails group.