County approves moving forward with consultant for trail

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved entering into an agreement with consultant HDR Inc. for work to develop the first phase of the paved multi-use trail on the former Union Pacific Railroad line.

Freeborn County Engineer Phil Wacholz said the firm would oversee planning, designing and development of construction drawings for the portion of the trail from Fountain Street in Albert Lea to Manchester, including both trail construction and bridge improvements. Eventually the trail would expand to Hartland on the north end and further south through Alert Lea on the other side, where users could connect to the already existing Blazing Star Trail.

Work with the firm would include additional services as needed, such as environmental permitting and construction oversight.

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The Albert Lea City Council at its last meeting approved a 50/50 cost share with the county for the consultant up to $150,000 for each entity.

HDR’s proposal in late December gave an estimated fee of about $265,000, and the board on Tuesday approved a not-to-exceed fee of $300,000.

Two proposals were evaluated by a committee of representatives from both the city and county.

The project has been in the works for a decade after 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.

Wacholz said the county’s share of the consultant cost will come from previously dedicated trail maintenance funds.

Though a name for the new trail has not yet been determined, 5th District Commissioner Nicole Eckstrom said the Freeborn County Trail Association was in favor of it being a continuation of the Blazing Star Trail.

She said this would open doors for additional funding.

Plans are to also ask the Parks and Recreation Board and the cities of Manchester and Hartland for any additional suggestions they might have.