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West St. Paul awarded $1.19 million grant
Funds to be used for future trail and sidewalk projects
After a lengthy debate among the West St. Paul City Council members, a resolution appreaded to be approved to accept a $1.19 million grant for future projects at the Feb. 13 meeting with a 3 to 2 vote. However, a four-vote approval is needed to accept the grant, which means discussion regarding the grant will continue at the next council meeting.
Jim Hartshorn, community development director, said that in 2015 the city received a smaller grant from the Active Living Organization to complete a feasibility study for proposed trails and sidewalks.
Using information from that study, West St. Paul was awarded the $1.19 million Federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant from the Metropolitan Council, which will be available in 2019.
The TAP grant is for the installation of an off-street trail along the south side of Marie Avenue and a sidewalk on the north side of Marie Avenue for the segment between Robert Street and Oakdale Avenue, as well as an off-street trail on the east side of Oakdale Avenue between Mendota Road and Wentworth Avenue.
“The segments are all listed as a priority area in the bike/ pedestrian plan,” Hartshorn said.
Total construction cost is estimated at $1.493 million. Hartshorn said the grant requires a 20 percent local match.
Because Wentworth is a city street, West St. Paul is responsible for a 20 percent local match.
“However, since Oakdale Avenue is a county road, Dakota County has agreed to cover the cost share in the 20 percent match with the city for the Oakdale segments,” Hartshorn said.
The preliminary estimated local match for construction is $300,000 with an estimated $211,000 from the city and $89,000 from the county.
Hartshorn said the engineering fees and right-of-way/easement costs are not eligible expenses for the grant. This means, pending council approval, “request for proposals” are needed for the engineering work. It is estimated that engineering costs for the project will be around $200,000, which will be split between the county and city.
Preliminary engineering work found there is a need for easements for the Oakdale Avenue segments, and acquisition of those easements is estimated at $650,000.
“However, temporary easements may be required for Marie due to grading issues,” Hartshorn said.
Total estimated city contribution to complete the project is $641,000.
Creating a more livable community
“This is a critical piece. It’s worth the work because this is a critical piece in our bike/pedestrian plan, and a critical part in making West St. Paul walkable,” Mayor Jenny Halverson said.
Council member Ed Iago said the necessity of having a trail between Robert and Oakdale on Marie is mandatory.
“There’s no question about that,” Iago said.
Iago said what concerns him the most is the unknown entity of easements. He said given the history with the South Robert Street improvements and cost overruns, he doesn’t like going into an unknown situation until the city has a better idea of what things might be needed.
Iago asked Hartshorn if he felt there was time to scope out additional information on easement costs. Hartshorn said he doesn’t know the exact dates of when the grant needed to be approved, but he thought there was additional time to figure things out.
Council member John Bellows asked if the council and city were to proceed, are they obligated to do all the projects set forth in the grant. He asked if it were possible at a later date to give some portion of the grant money back.
City Engineer Ross Beckwith said they could tell the grant board what the city was planning to do and see if that would affect the grant. He said an application is scored on what is submitted and to deviate from that would be an alteration.
Bellows said the reason he asked the question was because of the sidewalk on the north side of Marie Avenue. He said, with the exception of the property going up to where the Culver’s Restaurant is, the rest of it seems to have little or no traffic.
Bellows said the trail on the south side would presumably cover the needs of the people who wanted to navigate that.
“Clearly, we need to put a trail or sidewalk, or certainly a sidewalk, on the south side. That’s been something that the neighbors have mentioned repeatedly as to the danger of that,” Bellows said.
Bellows said in respect to the trail on Oakdale south of Marie Avenue, the south half of that portion abuts a golf course. On the east side are a number of different properties, including a senior living facility, which gives him cause for concern as to whether there would be much usage.
“If it were a connecting route I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but it terminates at Mendota Road,” Bellows said. “I question the cost of that, particularly when we have such a significant amount that’s projected for our portion of easement acquisition.”
Bellows said that before the council committed to the entire project, he felt it needed to know all the pieces. He said he’s fine if this was part of the engineering study, but if the council members were committing themselves in some other fashion to the entire project before costs were known, he was troubled by it.
Before he would spend West St. Paul dollars on a project, there needed to be value and purpose to it, Bellows said.
He added that no studies have been done to see if there is enough foot traffic to warrant both a sidewalk and trail in that area. He said there is clearly a need for something on the south side, but he is unsure if the same applies for the north side.
Mayor Halverson countered, “The trouble I have with those types of studies is that you’re looking at foot-traffic patterns, but it’s without a sidewalk.
“Not too many use it right now because there is no way to use it,” Halverson said.
Bellows said he appreciated what Halverson was saying, but he argued that if the city was going to spend thousands of dollars to acquire easements there needed to be a better idea of what the costs would be and whether they would be necessary.
Without sidewalks and walking trails on the busy streets, it was noted that pedestrians are at risk. Council member Dick Vitelli rhetorically asked what was the value of a human life if a pedestrian was killed.
“I’ll have to do research for that for you, too,” Hartshorn said.
Council member Dave Napier made a motion to accept the $1.19 million federal grant. He said there were a lot fewer hardships in these sidewalk and trail projects than with the Robert Street construction in terms of easements.
“I mean closing someone’s entrance is totally different than putting a walking access in front of their property,” Napier said.
Bellows added that all he wanted to do was make an informed decision on whether to accept the federal grant after knowing more information. He said if there are problems, the council shouldn’t lock in before then.
Bellows and Iago voted against the motion, and Fernandez was absent.
Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or email@example.com.