Senators hear requests for funding for Albert Lea projects

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Senate Capital Investment Committee stopped in Albert Lea Tuesday as part of a tour around southeastern Minnesota to hear requests for state bonding funds.

During the Albert Lea stop, senators heard about a $3.5 million request for funding for flood mitigation on East Main Street, a $1.75 million request for funds to connect the Blazing Star Trail from Myre-Big Island State Park and across Albert Lea Lake to Hayward, and $20 million for the development of Blazing Star Landing.

The primary focus was on the East Main Street flood mitigation and the Blazing Star Trail.

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Albert Lea Public Works Director Stephen Jahnke said flooding has taken place for many years on East Main Street but has been happening more frequently in recent years. The city often has to close the road for short periods of time when it gets heavy rain in a short space of time and has had to close for longer periods, such as in 2016 when the road was closed for 13 days.

Jahnke said the city has been working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation about the issue because of MnDOT’s planned mill and overlay of the road. The options to address the flooding are to raise a portion of the road two feet or to install pumps to displace water into the channel. Each option is expected to cost about the same.

Jahnke and a MnDOT official at the meeting said when selecting which option will be used, they will balance the costs and benefits. If the option to raise the road is selected, that option might include purchasing the Godfather’s Pizza location.

Regarding the Blazing Star Trail, Assistant City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos said the project fits in with efforts the city is taking to market Albert Lea as the recreation capital of southern Minnesota.

Sue Blenka with the Freeborn County Trail Association said when the Blazing Star Trail is completed, it will be 20 miles, connecting the communities of Albert Lea and Hayward through Myre-Big Island State Park. Eventual plans include connecting the trail to Austin.

Several segments of the trail have been built to date; however, a small portion remains, including a span over Albert Lea Lake.

“This is the last piece to get Hayward and the park and the city connected,” said Joel Wagar, parks and trails supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The $2.7 million total project cost includes bridge, embankments and trail construction over the lake, trail construction to connect the existing segments on the east and west side of the lake, wetland mitigation and engineering.

Of the total cost, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been awarded a $960,000 federal transportation funding grant that will become available in 2023.

If fully funded in 2020, construction would be slated to be completed in summer 2024.

Wagar said there has been 16 years of work put into building the state-designated trail. The first round of funding came from the state in 1998 and has also come in 2000, 2005 and 2014.

Blenka said she has personally put in 30 years on getting the trail designated and developed and looks forward to the day she can finally ride across the bridge over Albert Lea Lake.

Wagar said the communities of Albert Lea and Hayward have made substantial investment into the project with the development at both ends for bathrooms and the development of Frank Hall Park at the start of the trail in Albert Lea.

The tour, which is taking place through Thursday, is the fourth in a series of similar tours the committee is taking in different regions across the state.

The committee will hear more than two dozen proposals from local governments, colleges, state agencies and other entities this week.