Council approves paying half of cost for design work for trail

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved splitting $300,000 in engineering costs with Freeborn County for the first phase of the paved multi-use trail on the former Union Pacific Railroad line that runs from Albert Lea to Hartland.

Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said the first phase, from Fountain Street in Albert Lea to Manchester, would span about five miles. The entities plan to work with firm HDR Inc. for the engineering work, according to the resolution approved by the council.

Rigg said the firm’s work would include not only design but environmental review and setting the project up for grant applications to pay for the project. He anticipated it would take 12 to 18 months and would include both paved trail construction and bridge improvements.

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Members of the City Council and Freeborn County Board of Commissioners recently met for a collaborative services meeting, and this was one of the topics discussed there. The city manager said they tried to figure out which entity would be responsible for different portions and in the end decided to split the cost 50/50.

The resolution also commits the city and county to the same 50% cost share for future design work as the trail continues through Albert Lea.
Freeborn County acquired the 12 miles of abandoned line from Albert Lea to Hartland in 2014.

Last year, the county and city approved the joint trail action plan for the project after various walking and biking audits and meetings with trail advocate groups, city and rural residents, staff and elected officials. The plan outlines possible development segments that could be completed.

Trail enthusiasts are excited about the opportunity and its potential to connect the trail to the Blazing Star Trail, Myre-Big Island State Park and eventually to Austin.

Before the vote Monday, 1st Ward Councilor Rachel Christensen said while she is in favor of the project, and recognizes it will be a long-term project and that the work will help obtain grants, she also has seen all of the projects and costs that are adding up for the city.

“It’s something we value as a community, but again, anything we can do to be more aware of these price tags,” she said.

Fourth Ward Sherri Rasmussen said she agreed.

“We have so many things that keep coming forward to us, and everything is important,” Rasmussen said. “This in particular I think is important to so many people in the community and outside the community that it’s difficult to say no to, especially when it will give us the opportunity to find grants that will help us reduce the overall burden. I’m hesitant on this but will support it.”