August 20, 2007

LP's safe route to school will be delayed until next year

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

The development of a trail in Lester Prairie has run into an obstacle in the form of a desk in St. Paul.

In April, the city council learned that the city has been awarded a $175,000 Safe Routes to School grant from MnDOT.

Four months later, the city still has not received the packet of information it needs to move forward with the project, according to City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk.

The plan is to develop a trail along the north side of McLeod County Road 23 from McLeod County Road 9 to Pine Street South, and from there, south to the city park and pool.

The goal is to provide a safe route for children in developments on the east side of the city to reach the school and other areas.

Pawelk said that since the city was notified that it had received the grant, she was told several times that she would have the packet “in two weeks.”

This week, City Engineer Jake Saulsbury told the council that he was told by MnDOT that it is behind in paperwork, and the packet is not ready yet.

MnDOT has issued a state project number for the project, Saulsbury said.

Pawelk expressed frustration at the delay in getting the materials so the city can move forward.

“I originally hoped to get this done before the pool opened. Then I hoped to get it done before school started. Then I hoped we could at least get the trail cut in this year so it could settle over the winter. Now, we won’t be able to start until next year,” Pawelk said.

She added that no money can be spent on the project until the agreement is received from MnDOT.

McLeod County is acting as the city’s sponsor for the project. This is required because the city has a population of less than 5,000, according to Pawelk.

Although the city was not able to start the project as soon as Pawelk would have liked, she said the city can still move forward with some things that can be done ahead of time to allow construction to begin early next spring.

Once the packet is received from MnDOT, the next step will be for Saulsbury to complete a project memo.

When this has been approved, the city will need to meet with the county and with adjoining landowners, Pawelk said.

She added that the city will need to have the county confirm the width of the right-of-way along County Road 23.

Pawelk said that the city can call to have utilities located, and have the proposed trail surveyed before the first snowfall.

The next step will be for Saulsbury to prepare plans and specifications for the project.

Pawelk said she hopes that the city will be able to advertise for bids over the winter and get everything in place so construction of the trail can begin as soon as the construction season starts in the spring.

Safe Routes to School is a federal program that is administered locally by MnDOT.

The goal of the program is to reverse a decline in the number of students walking to school by improving routes and providing opportunities for regular physical activity.

Pawelk and others have also expressed safety concerns about children from developments on the east side of the city having to travel along McLeod County Road 23 to get to school and other parts of the city.

Of the 116 cities that applied for the grants, Lester Prairie was one of only 23 that received them.

Pawelk said another round of grant applications was scheduled for this month, but she questioned how MnDOT will be able to handle this, since the grants from April have not been processed yet.

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