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Willmar pursues funds for trail

WILLMAR — With the goal in mind to connect all of the trails in the Willmar City Trail system together, the City of Willmar will submit an application for $80,000 in Transportation Alternatives Program funds.

“The idea is to close all the gaps in the system. We’re whittling away at it,” said Willmar Public Works Director and City Engineer Sean Christensen.

The 2,150 foot trail, with a total estimated cost of $100,000, would run along the south side right of way of Highway 12 from Lakeland Drive to 23rd Street SE. The half-mile trail would be paved and would include a buffer between the trail and the highway.

No additional land would be needed for the project. Conversations with Kandiyohi County and MnDOT to discuss the use and placement of the trail have been taking place, Christensen said.

TAP is a pot of federal money, which is funneled through state transportation departments, to help fund projects such as trails. Willmar’s application was due Friday. In February Christensen will give a presentation in front of a board, which will decide whether to award the funds to Willmar. Christensen hopes to know if the city was successful or not by this spring.

One of the downsides to TAP is the long wait between being awarded the funds and actually having them in hand. If Willmar’s application is successful, the money for the project would not be available for approximately three years.

“It would be nice to get it done sooner,” Christensen said.

The city would be responsible for the remaining $20,000. Christensen said it would probably end up in the capital budget.

To apply for the grant funds the city passed two resolutions at last week’s city council meeting. The first was for the city to act as the sponsor for the trail project. The second was to agree that the city would be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the trail once completed. Both resolutions passed unanimously.

“They’re very supportive of trails and the trail system,” Christensen said of the city council and staff.

Having a network of trails does not add much to the day-to-day work of the city’s public works department. If a trail is within a street, it gets plowed and maintained when the street does, said Christensen. Standalone trails add a few miles and a little time to the schedule, but not enough to warrant more workers or equipment.

In 2011 Willmar created a city trail and pedestrian plan, which laid out where city trails could go and how they could connect to the larger Glacial Lakes trail system, which goes from Willmar to Cold Springs.

“As a society we’re getting more health conscience. It is important to have those facilities,” Christensen said.

While it could be a few years before the Highway 12 East Trail is completed, Christensen said there is some trail work being done this summer. Christensen will recommend the overlay of Ella Drive, which would include the overlay of the trail already there. Lakeland Drive also needs overlay work, and during this project two bikes lanes will be striped from Highway 12 to Civic Center Drive. Currently there is one bike lane, but this project would have a lane going in each direction.

“We’ve got a great network of streets to get vehicles from point A to point B. We’re working to establish a network of trails to get walkers and bikers from point A to point B,” Christensen said.