West St. Paul is “close to it all,” as our city motto proclaims, but we have an opportunity to not just be close to it all, but to be at the center.
Dakota County has a number of popular trails that encourage exercise, get people out into nature and connect communities. These trails also connect to wider regional trails throughout the Twin Cities.
West St. Paul has always been close to these trails, but barely a part of them. Thompson Park connects to Kaposia Park and eventually trails along the Mississippi River. But you have to get to Thompson Park. Last year a trail improvement project connected trails from Henry Sibley High School through the Dodge Nature Center to Garlough Elementary School. But the trail effectively ends at Marthaler Park.
Now we have the opportunity to complete the County’s River-to-River Greenway trail, routing it through the heart of West St. Paul and making our city part of a regional attraction.
Dakota County wants to complete the River-to-River Greenway trail and add a safer pedestrian/bike crossing at Robert Street. They are currently considering a few options with a tunnel at Crawford Drive (the old Blockbuster property).
Such a route would send bikers and pedestrians past the library, YMCA, the Dome, City Hall and Marthaler Park, as well as within stopping distance of a number of businesses and snack spots on Robert Street. Dakota County projects the trail will see 140,000 people visits each year.
Could you ask for a better way to highlight West St. Paul?
OK, But What’s It Going to Cost?
West St. Paul has nearly completed the expensive Robert Street reconstruction project, so cost is a question everybody is asking.
And that’s the beautiful part of this project: $2.85 million in federal, state and county funding has already been secured. The total cost depends on the selected option, but they range from a low of $2 million to a high of $3.2 million. At most the project would need another $350,000, but it’s likely this project could have little or no cost for the City of West St. Paul.
These numbers come directly from Dakota County and their most recent project summary. It’s worth noting that these estimates are significantly cheaper that earlier proposals that had a potential $5 million price tag.
Imagine the benefits of a regional trail going through the heart of West St. Paul:
- Provides a safer, recreational crossing for Robert Street that connects both halves of our city. It would allow kids to safely bike to the library, YMCA, the Dome, Marthaler Park, etc.
- A seamless trail that brings people to the heart of our city.
- The River to River Greenway has a projection of 140,000 visits annually, creating a potential economic draw as people bike and look for a place to stop for food/drinks/etc. on the route. Many developers will see that as a big positive. The Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis has spurred $200 million in development.
- Connects a regional trail system that runs from the Minnesota to the Mississippi Rivers and an eventual 14-mile loop, yet another regional draw.
- This would be a major investment in West St. Paul that comes with little if any price tag for the city.
- If/when the golf course is redeveloped, this would provide a natural opportunity to create a trailhead and parking lot, potentially near the library and pond. This could be a central attraction that highlights West St. Paul, while still leaving much of the golf course land open for other uses.
- Our neighbors in both Mendota Heights and South St. Paul have participated in this trail project. We need to do our part to connect and complete this regional trail.
So What’s the Problem?
This sound great, right? So what’s the problem?
Dakota County has presented their plans to the city and it’s up to the city council to vote on the proposal. Currently, a majority of the city council is opposed to the project. It’s possible council members will reject the County’s plan and turn their back on this project.
Arguments against the River-to-River Greenway project seem to center around business development, that somehow a regional trail and business development can’t coexist.
- Some argue the tunnel will take away commercial land on both sides of Robert Street. However, we’d only lose one commercial lot on the west side of Robert Street. The plans don’t require losing commercial space on the east side of Robert Street. Plus we currently have a glut of open commercial space on Robert Street. In fact, having less empty commercial space would help bring in more businesses.
- Some argue the trail could interfere with existing and proposed development projects. There’s Town Center 1 on the west side of Robert Street, a project that’s all but stalled out and still faces the challenge of existing businesses (plus, the plans included a crossing there anyway—we got CDA grant money by saying we’d put a crossing there). On the east side of Robert Street there’s the still undetermined future of the YMCA and potential re-development. But the reality is trails and development can coexist and work together. Many developers would jump at the chance to be close to a regional attraction with 140,000 uses per year.
When I talked to Jim Hartshorn, West St. Paul’s community development director, about how the trail might impact these developments, he said there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do both.
What Do We Do?
Our council members need to hear strong community support for this project. At recent neighborhood meetings there was huge support across multiple questions for parks, trails and sidewalks. It should be clear how much West St. Paul residents value trails and sidewalks, but city council members still oppose this project.
Our council members need to hear your voice. Here’s how to do it:
1. Contact City Council Members
You can call or email city council members to let them know you support this project:
Dear Council Member,
I support a safer Robert Street crossing for the River-to-River Greenway trail. This is a great plan that will be an asset to West St. Paul. I urge you to support the proposed tunnel.
2. Sign the Petition
We’ve put together a petition to show support for the project:
Anyone can sign the petition, even if you don’t live in West St. Paul. (Certainly support from West St. Paul residents has more weight, so we’re sorting out who is a resident and who is not. Support from outside the city helps prove the economic argument that people will come to West St. Paul for the trail and spend money here.)
3. Like WSP Greenway Project
You can also like the WSP Greenway Project on Facebook to further show your support and get updates.