MANKATO — An $800,000 bike trail along Stoltzman Road between Mankato West High School and the Rasmussen Woods Nature Area could be constructed as soon as 2021. So could roundabouts on Riverfront Drive at Highway 14 and a roundabout at North Mankato's intersection of Lor Ray and Howard drives.
All of those projects were recommended to receive available federal funding Friday at a meeting of the Area Transportation Partnership.
The $400,000 recommended for the Stoltzman Road trail is less than the $560,000 requested. Still, Blue Earth County Public Works Director Ryan Thilges believes the amount should be enough to get the trail constructed if the County Board and the Mankato City Council maintain their previous willingness to contribute local matching funds.
"That's what we need to discuss," Thilges said. "I would anticipate support, but we need to have that talk."
The ATP — made up of elected officials, city and county engineers, Regional Development Commission members, and Minnesota Department of Transportation staff — recommends distribution of limited transportation dollars to competing projects in south-central and southwestern Minnesota.
Greg Ous, the district engineer for MnDOT's Mankato-based District 7, said the ATP is set up as a grassroots advisory board and its recommendations are almost always respected by MnDOT leaders.
The trail along Stoltzman Road, which is also known as Blue Earth County Road 16, scored well in competition with other proposed trail projects competing for $700,000 in available federal funds for District 7. The remaining $300,000 was recommended for a trail connection in Gaylord.
Left out were projects in Watonwan County, St. Peter and Mankato. Mankato Public Works Director Jeff Johnson was disappointed that a proposed bridge replacement on the North Minnesota River Trail in Mankato wasn't funded. Johnson noted the Mankato project and one in Watonwan County focused on repairs to existing trail systems rather than creation of new trails, suggesting the scoring system should give more points to maintenance over expansion.
Ous agreed that the trail-funding criteria might need to be re-examined.
Thilges said the Stoltzman trail, which has been sought by Mankato residents for years, scored highly because it offered both recreational and pedestrian-safety benefits. It will provide a route to Rasmussen Woods and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, while connecting the existing Stoltzman Trail south of that area with downtown, west Mankato and the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
The trail also gives people from residential areas along Stoltzman a continuous path to West High, Jefferson Elementary School and Minnesota State University.
"We had a very strong project that has a significant sphere of influence," Thilges said. "... The need is certainly apparent."
The timing of construction is still to be decided. The federal funds, assuming they receive final approval later this summer, will become available in 2023. Both the county and city have set aside local funding for 2021.
The decision by elected officials on the County Board and City Council will be whether to provide advance funding to cover the entire cost of trail construction in 2021 and wait four years to be reimbursed for the federal share. Alternatively, they could decide to delay the project until 2023 when the federal dollars are provided.
Roundabouts also fared well Friday. MnDOT has slated $700,000 for its share of constructing roundabouts at the Highway 14 ramps on Riverfront Drive in two years. That leaves about $1.35 million for Mankato and Blue Earth County to split.
Because of the safety and congestion issues at the interchange, particularly the exit ramp from westbound Highway 14, Johnson is hopeful that the City Council and County Board will be willing to fund construction no later than 2021.
"I can't speak for the county, but we have money programmed," Johnson said.
And he expects that project will lead to another at Highway 14's next interchange to the west.
"Once we get this one done, we'll start looking at Third Avenue for a similar solution," he said.
North Mankato was recommended for $1.2 million in federal funding for a roundabout at Howard Drive and Lor Ray Drive. The money won't be available until 2023, but North Mankato will have the option of paying for the $1.5 million project sooner, knowing the bulk of the cost will be reimbursed later.