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County uses surplus to finish trail

Rather than let a state funding shortfall delay the completion of a new trail, Washington County will kick in more of its own money.

The Point Douglas Regional Trail is set to open sometime in November. The 2.5-mile paved trail will connect Point Douglas Park to the new Hastings Bridge trail system. Runners, walkers and cyclists will have a direct route between the business districts of Hastings and Prescott, Wis., as well as views of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

The project's $5.2 million cost includes $1.5 million in requested funding from the state. But that money, which would come from a bonding bill, isn't expected anytime soon due to uncertainty over the timing and size of a bonding bill at the Minnesota Capitol.

Instead, the county will fill the gap with savings from another public works project. At their Jan. 24 meeting, county commissioners voted to reallocate $1 million in leftover funds from the North Shop, the newly renovated county maintenance and vehicle storage facility in north Stillwater Township.

To obtain the remaining $500,000, the board will seek a reallocation of grant money from the Metropolitan Council.

Democrats, including Gov. Mark Dayton, are at loggerheads with the Republican-controlled Legislature. Last year's legislative session expired without the passage of a bonding bill, leaving counties in the Twin Cities metro with underfunded transit projects.

"The state Legislature's not doing their job, but it's important for us to carry on," Commissioner Stan Karwoski of Oakdale said. "This could go on for years. This might be the new norm."

The unanimous vote came after a presentation by deputy public works director and county engineer Wayne Sandberg. He said the $1.5 million is needed to build a pedestrian bridge that will cross over railroad tracks on the north boundary of the King's Cove Marina adjacent to Highway 61 near Hastings. It will also pay for the construction of a one-quarter-mile stretch of trail that parallels the roadway.

Commissioner Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove said she supported the reallocation of the money as the lesser of two evils. Future park projects could be jeopardized if they have to keep scrambling to cover the state's IOUs, she said.

"This isn't ideal," she said. "I hate to say this, but it's Point Douglas Trail now. It might be Ravine Park next year and Lake Elmo Park next year if we don't get bonding money for these projects." They hope to get reimbursed once the Legislature passes a bonding bill, she said after the meeting.

The trail is funded by federal aid, Metropolitan Council grants and state bonds. But the federal and state sources have expiration dates.

"We should not risk federal dollars," said County Board Chairwoman Lisa Weik of Woodbury said. "This has been years in the making."

The board approved the master plan for the Point Douglas Regional Trail in February 2012. The financing is structured to spend county money last.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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