City invited to apply for federal trail grant

A future bike and walking trail could connect the Princeton Depot Museum with Mark Park, Fairview Northland Medical Center, South Elementary, Princeton High School, and the ShopKo-Coborns retail area.

The Princeton City Council on Jan. 9 gave its endorsement to a proposed trail plan when it directed Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman to pursue a federal grant intended to build trail facilities. The grant application is due Feb. 1.

The city was invited to apply for the grant after submitting a previous letter of intent with the federal Transportation Alternatives Program, or TAPS.

The Great Northern Trail, to be constructed this year along an old railroad bed between Elk River and Princeton, would connect with the proposed $750,000 trail system through Princeton, of which the grant would help fund, Fuhrman said.

The project would connect the Great Northern Trail near the city’s waste water treatment plant, go north along Rum River Drive and under the Highway 169 overpass to Coborns. The trail would then follow an existing sidewalk near SuperAmerica, and then head across Rum River Drive to extend a trail from McDonald’s and ShopKo that would then connect with a new walking trail to be built by the hospital, Fuhrman told the Princeton City Council. From Fairview Northland’s walking trail, this newly proposed trail would then head north along the former railroad bed between South elementary, Plastic Products, and the Palmer School Bus garage before leading to Mark Park. From Mark Park, the trail could connect with the depot, she said.

The proposal brings together an idea once floated by Councilmember Thom Walker — making the Great Northern Depot the trail head of the Great Northern Trail.

Furhman said the proposed trail is nearly “shovel-ready,” meaning that construction could begin almost immediately with just a couple of easements needing to be obtained. Those awarding grants tend to favor projects that are ready to get off the ground, she said.

The estimated $750,000 trail project cost includes $600,000 for construction and $150,000 for engineering, Fuhrman said. Engineering costs are not allowed to be covered by the grant, but it would cover 80 percent of the construction fees, she said.

That would make the city’s contribution about $121,000 for construction, in addition to $150,000 for engineering — or a total cost of about $270,000, Fuhrman said.

Because Princeton’s population is below the 5,000 people needed to make the city a “state aid” city, Sherburne County was looking at being the project’s governmental support agent on the project. The Sherburne County Board was to consider participating in the project at its meeting this week. Mille Lacs County is serving in a similar role with the city and school district’s Safe routes to School project that is resulting in new sidewalks being installed in the North Elementary School area.

Councilmember Jules Zimmer made a motion to direct Fuhrman to apply for the grant. In doing so, Zimmer said the trail would be a great addition for Princeton. He did, however, question how realistic it might be for the city to contribute $270,000 toward the project.

Walker said receiving 80 percent gets the city most of the way toward completing the project.

“If we get the grant, I think we can find the rest of the funding,” Walker said.

The city could receive additional funding assistance because grants awarded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources can be applied to federal Transportation Alternatives Programs.

“I’m real optimistic we would be able to be awarded a DNR grant,” City Administrator Mark Karnowski said.

Karnowski said the city could also examine a few other funding options that would keep the city from dipping into its capital improvement accounts to fund the project.

If the trail is constructed it could be connected to other trail systems that are planned for the area, including a  proposed trail that will go from Princeton, along Highway 95, and out into Princeton and Greenbush townships.