Shooting Star Trail to get $2.16M

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, May 17, 2014

By Jason Schoonover and Trey Mewes

With Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature, the Shooting Star Trail will be on its way toward Austin.

“It’s great news,” said Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson.

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The Senate and House both passed a $846 million borrowing package for construction projects and a separate $200 million cash package for public infrastructure projects Friday. The bonding bill included about $2.16 million to extend the trail from Rose Creek to Austin — a goal local trail enthusiasts have worked toward for decades.
Both Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, both DFL-Austin, voted for the final bills.

“We knew it was a top propriety,” Sparks said. He added it was one of the highest ranked trail projects at the session.

The Blazing Star Trail, which starts in Albert Lea, received $433,000 to extend the trail to Hayward. Plans call for the two trails to eventually connect in Austin.
The original request was for $2.5 million for the Shooting Star and $500,000 for the Blazing Star, but Sparks said the two trails could receive more money if other communities aren’t able or ready to utilize their portion of the $17 million going to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for trails.

Sparks credited trail supporters with Prairie Visions, Vision 2020, Mower County and from around the community for their efforts.
Hanson said the trail money might not be available until later the summer, which means the trail could reach Austin by next summer. But, the count is ready to start work on the trail as soon as possible.
“We’re going to attack it and we’re going to get that trail to Austin,” he said.
The trail will leave Rose Creek and run along State Highway 56 before jutting west as a bike lane on County Road 58 and then turning north on 28th Street to connect to Austin near the Austin Country Club.

Sparks confirmed plans are also in place to add a safety fence to the 28th Street bridge. Someone died by jumping or falling off the bridge in May of 2013. Several other incidents of teens threatening to jump from the bridge have been reported and the incidents have stopped traffic on Interstate 90.
Hanson said the Minnesota Department of Transportation will also make it a priority to replace the bridge.
The bills also designate $12 million for flood hazard mitigation efforts and include language for the Cedar River Watershed District, but not for a specific amount. CRWD officials will have the opportunity to apply for funds.
“Between Austin and the Cedar River Watershed, there’s the ability to seek dollars,” Poppe said.

Thanks to a provision in the bill, the Austin Port Authority will now be able to use state bonding money secured in 2012 for parking lot construction as part of the Hormel Institute expansion.

The bills also include $87 million for roads and bridges.
“I think we made a real effort to beef that area up,” Sparks said.
Sparks expects more discussion on highway funding could be coming next year.
However, Hanson wasn’t certain projects like the replacement of the Oakland Place Northeast bridge over Dobbins Creek would receive funds, as much of the money is earmarked for other projects.
The cash package includes $7.5 million to go toward dredging Albert Lea’s Fountain Lake.

“It’s a very exciting day for Albert Lea,” Sparks said. “I think the final push over the finish line has been very gratifying. I’ve never worked so hard in my career here in St. Paul to get a project fully funded.”

The construction package approved includes everything from hiking trails to prison repairs to laboratories on college campuses.

The largest single item is $126 million to complete the Capitol renovation. The smallest is $78,000 for work on a historic bridge in Hanover. It also includes $22 million for the Lewis and Clark water project in southwestern Minnesota.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.