MANKATO — Two prominent gaps in the Mankato trail system — along Stoltzman Road and on South Victory Drive — will be addressed in the next two construction seasons under plans being crafted by Blue Earth County.
Coming first will be nearly a mile of new trail along the west side of Stoltzman Road, from Blue Earth Street near West High School to the Rasmussen Woods Nature Area near Stadium Road.
The $770,000 project, which will create a continuous three-mile trail stretching to the southern city limits, will begin construction by autumn of this year with completion in the spring or summer 2021, said County Public Works Director Ryan Thilges.
Designs for the trail were presented to the public at an open house last week.
“We had a good turnout,” Thilges said. “We got a tremendous amount of feedback and enthusiasm for the project. So that was nice to see.”
Walkers and bikers have been requesting a trail along Stoltzman for years, but the project was complicated by the county’s ownership of the road, the massive wetland along Stoltzman, the cost of the work and the fact the road itself wasn’t due for reconstruction.
A year ago, $430,000 in federal aid was approved for the project, which scored high in competition with other trail requests because it had both pedestrian-safety and recreational qualities. The trail provides a safe route to West High and to Jefferson Elementary School. It also provides a pedestrian connection to Rasmussen Woods, the adjacent Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and to the broader area trail system including the Red Jacket Trail, the Minnesota River Trail, the Minneopa Trail and more.
The federal appropriation, though, was for 2023, and there was still a $340,000 funding gap. Both the County Board and the City Council indicated a willingness to split the remaining cost, although there was talk of doing the project in segments over time.
Instead, both segments will be tackled at once, thanks in part to the Minnesota Department of Transportation providing $150,000 through its funding program for local trails. The DNR grant requires the trail to be completed by June 2021.
That same year, the county plans to reconstruct Victory Drive from just south of Hoffman Road to Stadium Road. Also known as County Road 82, Victory Drive is likely to become an urban street with gutters and storm sewers, rather than ditches, and with a trail on the west side.
“That’s one of our key objectives, to get a trail in there,” Thilges said.
A trail now runs along the length of Stadium Road, more than 2.5 miles starting on Mankato’s southwest side, and along Victory Drive, nearly four miles, to the city’s northeastern corner. Missing is a segment along the southernmost part of Victory from Balcerzak Drive to Stadium Road.
“We’ve observed people walking along the road,” Thilges said of the missing link. “... That’s certainly been identified as a gap that needs to be remedied.”
The county recently hired engineering firm Bolton and Menk to do designs for the nearly $4 million reconstruction project. One factor the engineers will look at as part of the $187,000 in design work is whether Victory can be reduced to three lanes on its southern end.
“The traffic drops off pretty significantly, so we want to take a look at that,” Thilges said.
If the road can be narrowed by one lane, that would leave room to add the trail on the west side and possibly a sidewalk on the east side, he said. Keeping the road at four lanes will leave minimal right-of-way for trails and sidewalks because of the construction boom in the area in recent years.
All of the new homes and apartments, however, make the pedestrian amenities even more necessary, Thilges said. The city of Mankato is expected to cover about half of the costs of the trail.
One thing that won’t happen as part of the Victory Drive reconstruction is a new intersection with Hoffman Road.
A study has been completed to improve the intersection, which becomes highly congested during peak traffic times. But that work will be done in a different construction year because the 2021 work will already significantly disrupt traffic, closing Victory Drive and the Victory/Balcerzak intersection.
“That’s already a pretty substantial impact,” he said.
The Balcerzak Drive intersection may get a fourth leg as part of the project with the road being extended to the east. Roundabout fans shouldn’t get excited, however, because Thilges expects both the Balcerzak and Hoffman intersections to retain traffic-light signals rather than being converted to traffic circles.
The signals along Victory have been modernized to allow them to communicate and to be timed to keep traffic flowing.
“The city and county have spent a lot money getting those signals talking to each other,” Thilges said. “So, I think it works pretty well as a signalized corridor.”