By Emily Bialkowski
It’s an exciting proposition: a 2.4 mile bicycle path from the Interstate 90 Mississippi River bridge to Dresbach that piggybacks off the interstate – perhaps suspended underneath the interstate.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has already agreed to pay up to 90 percent of the project cost but only if Winona County, Houston County and the city of La Crescent split the remaining 10 percent three ways, or about $16,667 per municipality.
The $500,000 recreational trail would coincide with the reconstruction of the I-90 bridge system in La Crescent.
Houston County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski and outgoing Economic Development Coordinator Jordan Wilms presented a resolution supporting the project to the Houston County Board March 26. The item received mixed reviews initially.
“It’s technically in Winona County, but the majority of users will be from La Crescent,” Pogodzinski said.
La Crescent has already approved the partnership, and Winona County said they would vote on it if Houston County supported the idea that same night.
But budget constraints had the board questioning the commitment.
“The only big concern is spending money and efforts on such a small portion of the county. Is that something we want to fund when it’s not coming in the county or city very much? That obviously needs to be looked at when we’re trying to get a bike trail from Houston to La Crescent,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said, adding that he could see both sides of the coin.
Wilms said it’s quite rare for any municipality to get a “huge chunk” of trail. “Any chunk of trail you can get is all within a bigger picture,” Wilms said.
Commissioner Judy Storlie supported the resolution, saying, “I just think it brings more tourism into the county. It’s so minimal what we have to do to get that in here. For my district, it’s going to benefit a lot of people. If we don’t do it now there won’t be funds.”
Wilms echoed the sentiment, saying, “This is the first time this funding has been available, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be there next year.”
Commissioner Steve Schult said he wasn’t totally against the idea but worried about “taking money from my constituents for something up there.”
Zmyewski added, “To me, you can go either way on it.”
Commissioner Dana Kjome said it would be an easier decision if it the county were not facing such difficult economic times.
To meet deadlines on the proposition, the board needs to make a decision by mid-April. The commissioners agreed to table the resolution until their next meeting so they can thoroughly evaluate their options.
By the end of the meeting – and after a thorough financial report from the county finance director – some funds in the board of commissioners budget were eyeballed to allocate toward the trail.
A line item called “other professional and technical fees” has more than $70,000 left in it for the year. The fund is typically used to pay consultant fees. From year to year it’s hard for the county to predict how many consultants they will need to hire, so the money is kept available.
Zmyewski suggested taking a portion of that budget – perhaps $5,000 – and setting it aside for the proposed trail. Houston County’s total contribution to the project wouldn’t be due until 2014, and the county could apply for federal recreation dollars to further help the cause.
Commissioner Teresa Walter said she would support allocating the money for the trail.
The board will likely commit one way or another at their next meeting, April 2.
Storlie, again expressing support, said the project helps the county look to the future.
“If we choose not to do, it we’ve chose not to do it for the next 50 years, and we’ve chose to not have bicycle transportation there.”