U of M bicycle trail sees more delays

The city has had problems acquiring the land for the bikeway, specifically that belonging to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company.

Danielle Nordine

The city of Minneapolis continues to face delays on the construction of a bicycle and pedestrian trail through the University of Minnesota campus — a project in the works since the 1990s.
The city has had problems acquiring the land for the bikeway, which would run from Northern Pacific Bridge No. 9, a pedestrian bridge connecting the East and West Banks, to Oak Street near TCF Bank Stadium and Williams Arena, with some of the trail running along the abandoned Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks.
Most of the property belongs to the University, but the BNSF Railway Company still owns portions around the abandoned tracks.
“The city doesn’t own any of the land, so that complicates things,” project manager Paul Ogren said. “We’re this third party coming in to do the project, and we have to coordinate with the University and BNSF just to get the property.”
This is the third incarnation of the bikeway project, said Steve Sanders, campus bicycle coordinator for the University’s Parking and Transportation Services. City and University officials have been discussing plans for the trail since the late 1990s.
“It’s been frustrating,” Sanders said. “The money has had to be turned back to the federal government over the years because of issues with acquiring the property, primarily with the railroad.”

The bikeway would fill an important gap in the trail system by creating a continuous path from Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul, allowing University students and commuters to travel more easily between the two cities, Sanders said.
City officials had planned to complete the bicycle trail project by fall 2009 but couldn’t get the land.
Construction was pushed to spring 2010 to accommodate the time for land purchases but was delayed again because the city still hasn’t struck a deal with BNSF to purchase its portion of the land.
BNSF and city officials are still mulling over the details of the sale. Ogren said he hopes to have the land deals finalized within the next few weeks. BNSF would not provide a specific date.
“BNSF is working with the city and we expect to be able to come to an agreement on the project,” BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said in an e-mail.
The city hopes to start construction before the end of this year, but it’s unlikely the trail will be finished before next summer, Ogren said. The actual construction will take only three months, he said.
“This project has been talked about and thought about and funded, but there’s always been something that’s happened where it hasn’t been able to get built,” Sanders said.
The price negotiations aren’t controversial, Ogren said, but the federal funding stipulates that the property has to be officially secured and paid for before any construction can begin.
The University wanted to make sure the location of the trail still allowed it to use some of the land for any future developments, but the University agreed to give the city an easement at no cost near the end of 2008.
This means the University will still own the land, but is allowing the city to build the trail and fund the project, said Rick Johnson, project director at the University’s Capital Planning and Project Management.
“We think the bike trail is good for the University as well as the city, so the University is really trying to facilitate this,” he said.
Minneapolis received a $2.5 million grant for the project in June 2007 from the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Project, a program designed to increase biking and walking and decrease driving habits.
The federal program is also responsible for the funding of other local transit projects, including Minneapolis’ recently launched bicycle sharing program and a future bicycle center on the University’s East Bank that will feature services such as secure lockers, showers and repairs.
Despite the project’s many roadblocks, Ogren — its third project manager — said he hopes to have it completed soon.
“This has been in the works for quite a few years,” he said. “But we’re going to push it on to completion this time.”