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City Council adopting guide to walking and bike trail development

A pedestrian is pictured Monday along one of the walking trails in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- A plan to guide development of bicycle and pedestrian trails in Willmar is now an official part of the city's comprehensive land use plan.

The comprehensive land use plan, updated in 2009, cites the need for work in the areas of trails and pedestrian uses and that's what the bicycle and pedestrian plan accomplishes, says Bruce Peterson, the city's director of planning and development services.

The plan addresses the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, and calls for a local transportation system that complements development and provides for bicycle and pedestrian access to places of employment, recreation, shopping, entertainment and all developed portions of the city.

The City Council voted last week to make the nearly 100-page plan an addendum to the comprehensive plan. The council approved the plan after holding a public hearing.

Peterson said the plan has facilities standards for bicycle and pedestrian usage. It has recommendations, priorities, goals and objectives. The implementation section discusses potential funding sources. The plan includes maps, tables and figures.

There are two categories of projects: enhancement to the current system; and projects to enhance the safety for pedestrians and bicyclists primarily in the existing system, said Peterson.

It was acknowledged that projects and solutions will require engineering analysis, Peterson said. The selected projects and priorities were based on need and merit and were not analyzed for engineering applicability, he said.

There are 15 short-term, 23 mid-term and 15 long-term projects. A variety of reasons could either speed up or delay construction, he said.

One project needing engineering is the trail on the northeast corner of Willmar Lake where the right of way is narrow and banks are steep.

The project is a major need but was placed in the long-term list because of the difficulty of physically constructing that trail. However, if financing is available and if right-of-way issues can be resolved, the project could be accelerated, Peterson said.

Work on the plan began last year. A multi-jurisdictional task force led by Willmar Community Education and Recreation drafted the plan with assistance from the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission. About 17 people with wide community representation attended most of the meetings.

The task force held two public hearings, and the Planning Commission held a hearing and approved the plan.

"The task force worked very diligently to make sure every recommended project relates to the vision statement, which is the city will develop and maintain an interconnected bicycle and pedestrian system where residents and visitors have safe, accessible and convenient options to meet their needs,'' said Peterson.

He said the plan creates no financial obligation for the city. The recommended projects are a guide for expansion and enhancement and the plan does not set a timeframe for any projects.

"What I see the primarily benefit of this plan being is that we've identified problem areas in the community,'' he said. "We've created a direction for where we want to go to solve those problems and it will serve as a written basis for grant applications as we solicit funds to make improvements to that system in the future.''

During the hearing, trails fan Brad Lenz said his concern is that some of the city's premier paths are in bad condition.

Peterson said the task force noted the deteriorated condition of a number of trails. The plan says maintenance is a high priority and to the greatest extent possible those types of improvements and repairs will be included in future capital plans.

Council member Denis Anderson thanked the task force, supported the plan and said he hopes it could be done much faster than what the goals might be.

Council member Ron Christianson asked how maintenance would be funded. The city has many miles of trails to maintain and mow, he said.

Peterson said maintenance for any public or municipal project would be the city's responsibility. He was not aware of any good maintenance funding sources.

"What is the city appetite for maintenance?'' he asked. "There is the expectation the city will continue to grow, that we will continue to enhance our tax base and that these trails and pedestrian facilities are necessary quality of life issues that will have to be borne by the taxpayer.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150