By: Derrick Knutson, Review Staff
Bikers, walkers and other outdoor enthusiasts who traverse Gateway Trail will soon have a safer way to cross the pathway at the intersection of Highways 120 and 36.
State Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-North St. Paul, and State Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, sponsored legislation in 2008 to construct a bridge or tunnel at the busy intersection so pedestrians can cross safely.
"This is a very dangerous intersection and the Gateway Trail is very heavily used by people walking and biking," Wiger said. "It's a safety concern; people are aware that it's busy, but accidents can happen."
Wiger said he wasn't aware of any car/pedestrian fatal accidents that have happened at this particular intersection, but he said he has heard of fatalities when pedestrians were trying to cross other busy parts of Highway 36.
"I know there have been a number of close calls (at the intersection)," Wiger said. "We didn't want to wait for a fatality. The have been several deaths and injuries related to Highway 36 crossings."
The legislation allocates $650,000 for the construction of a bridge or tunnel at the trail crossing, but Wiger said the bridge was the only option because MnDOT did some preliminary soil testing in the area and found the water table 5 to 7 feet down, which negates the possibility of a tunnel.
"A tunnel would have been flooded just about all of the time," said Marc Goess, an area engineer with MnDOT.
Highway 120 is the border between Oakdale and North St. Paul. A tunnel would have been the most cost-effective method to address the safety problem at the congested intersection, Wiger said, but because of the higher cost of the bridge, MnDOT had to wait until $1.3 million in federal stimulus dollars was allocated toward the project before the design and construction of the bridge could start.
MnDOT included in the project a consideration to receive funds from the economic stimulus package, according to information from Wiger's office. The request was made in the amount of $1,250,000.
In order to be eligible for the funds, the final construction plans must be drafted by Nov. 13, Goess said. MnDOT is working on the final bridge design and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working on the approach to the bridge, according to information from Wiger's office.
Goess said construction of the bridge will probably start next spring and be finished by fall 2010.
In addition to bridge construction on Gateway Trail, Wiger said he's sponsored legislation for a proposed trail along Silver Lake that would link with existing trails. He said there could be the possibility of linking the Gateway Trail to other trails via Margaret Street or Hadley Avenue.
History of Gateway Trail
The Gateway Trail is a recreational, non-motorized trail that runs from near the state Capitol in St. Paul all the way out to Pine Point Park in Stillwater Township. The trail was originally a rail line, part of the Soo Line Railroad. The railroad tracks were abandoned about three decades ago, according to the Minnesota DNR Web site.
Surrounding communities such as St. Paul, North St. Paul and Oakdale acquired the rail-line land starting in the late 1980s and trail construction followed shortly thereafter. In total, the trail is about 20 miles long. The Gateway Trail is one of the busiest trails in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota DNR. There are about 300,000 uses per year.
Derrick Knutson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (651) 748-7825.
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