By JANE MCCLURE
Another effort is underway to kick-start a Midtown Greenway extension into St. Paul. This summer St. Paul and Minneapolis community and bicycle advocacy groups are forming the “Extend the Greenway Partnership” Coalition. The coalition organizers are also seeking a cost estimate to complete a feasibility study of the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Short Line Bridge, which crosses the river between the Franklin Ave. and Marshall-Lake bridges. The intent is to get a study in place to determine how much a full bridge inspection would cost, as well as the cost to fully rehabilitate the bridge for bicycle and pedestrian use. The Midtown Greenway Coalition hopes to raise about $10,000 for the feasibility analysis.
Their steps came out of a June 7 Union Park District Council (UPDC) meeting to hear a panel discussion of the long-awaited bike and walking trail project, and possible next steps. Almost 100 people attended the meeting. Many are interested in seeing the extension move ahead and are setting up a web page to gather input on the extension.
The Midtown Greenway is more than 5.5 miles long. It runs one block north of Lake St. in Minneapolis, in a former Milwaukee Road railroad corridor. The Greenway’s first phase opened in 2000, and it has expanded three times since then. It includes two one-way bike lanes and one two-way walking path, though they are combined in some places where space is tight. More than 5,000 people use the Greenway each day.
The Greenway currently dead-ends just west of the Mississippi River. “There’s not a great way to cross the river,” said Midtown Greenway Coalition Executive Director Soren Jensen. Cyclists and pedestrians must use the Marshall or Franklin bridges. Jensen said there’s a need for political will to get the extension done.
“If this is going to happen, it has to come from the St. Paul side,” said Jensen.
Several people at the meeting expressed support for a connection, although there were questions about construction and long-term maintenance costs and how those would be covered. No current costs estimates have been prepared. One idea raised is to tie the Greenway extension discussion into plans to rebuild Interstate 94, and the fate of railroad tracks in the Desnoyer Park and Prospect Park areas. That planning work might provide a way to get a connection done.
But the biggest question is the Short Line or High Bridge railroad bridge over the Mississippi River, which is owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The bridge was built in 1880 and rebuilt in 1902. More than a decade ago CP Rail offered Hennepin County bridge access, if the county would assume legal liability and keep the bridge open for rail traffic. A 2006 study commissioned by the county indicated that the bridge, due to its age, construction, and maintenance, is at risk of collapse. A recommendation was made to build a new bike/pedestrian bridge using the bridge piers, which had $12 million costs at that time. Also suggested was construction of a new bridge parallel to the existing one.
Jensen said a new study is being sought so that the bridge can be examined in detail. Jensen is calling for a coalition of St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials to work toward bridge acquisition and repair.
Efforts to extend the Midtown Greenway into St. Paul are nothing new. Since about 2003 St. Paul Department of Public Works officials and community members have discussed a bike and pedestrian trail connection. It would have extended along Ayd Mill Rd. and connected with the I-35E Trail, Samuel Morgan Trail, and east-west neighborhood bike lanes. Most concepts had the greenway extending up between Ayd Mill Rd. and the CP Rail track, along the tracks through the West Midway industrial area and then into Desnoyer Park neighborhood to the railroad bridge. The project had city and federal funding at one point.
Public Works officials contended they could design a safe trail; railroad officials disagreed. After negotiations had failed, the city sought to acquire the property through eminent domain. CP Rail then sued. In 2010 U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ruled against the city and for the railroad. That put the brakes on the project.
St. Paul city officials are interested in seeing what can be done on their side of the river.
Public Works Traffic Engineer John Maczko said the Midway Greenway extension has long appealed to him. “It would close a gap with our existing bike facilities.… It’s a great vision to go for. But we learned in the past that we have to have a willing partner in the railroad,” Maczko added. He believes CP rail officials would talk about the project again. But changes in federal law would mean bringing in the federal Surface Transportation Board and jumping through other hoops before a project goes forward.