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Bemidji City Council: Design work for trail bridge OK'd

Anticipating a possible second round of stimulus funding, the Bemidji City Council has decided to move ahead with design for a future trail project.

The city last year tried to get stimulus finding for a Paul Bunyan Trail bridge over state Highway 197, but the project was not selected.

Now, the city wants the project to be "shovel-ready" in case stimulus funding does become an option.

"If we want to have this project ready in the timeframe that (Minnesota Department of Transportation) is telling us, we need to start this now," said Public Works Director/City Engineer Craig Gray.

The council voted 5-0 to authorize the city to enter into a professional contract with Widseth Smith Nolting for design of the bridge. Councilors Jerry Downs and Greg Negard were absent.

Gray said the Federal Highway Administration is expecting a new stimulus bill, which could provide $500 million to Minnesota in stimulus funds.

Priority will be given to projects that are "shovel-ready" and primed for construction, Gray explained.

Further enhancing prospects for the Bemidji project, according to Gray, is that MnDOT has said about one-half of the stimulus funds will be given to outstate projects.

"The majority of Stimulus I enhancement money went to metro projects," Gray wrote in a memorandum to the council.

If stimulus funds are granted, local agencies will have about 90 days to get projects ready for bidding.

Normally, that process takes about 5-6 months, Gray noted in his memorandum.

Complicating the project a bit is that the bridge will be turned over the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources following its completion; a Joint Powers Agreement will need to be signed by the city and DNR.

Gray wrote that delivering the project within the timeframe will be a "huge undertaking," but believes city staff, and WSN will be able to meet the deadline.

The cost of the bridge is estimated at $1.4 million. Stimulus funds would cover all of the construction costs, but would not cover design or inspection work. Those costs, estimated at about $200,000, would come from local sales-tax dollars.

The city now will spend up to $100,000 to design the bridge.

Officials noted that the city's Parks and Trails Commission approved the use of sales-tax funds for the bridge last year.

Gray said he would learn in February if the bridge would likely be selected.

He expects that perhaps just $25,000 would be spent on design by the time a selection update is available.

Still, he told the council, it might be worthwhile to complete the design of the bridge now.

"There may be some advantages to completing paying all the way through the design, whether we're selected or not," Gray said.

Councilor Ron Johnson agreed, "If we're going to have a bridge there, we're going to have it designed anyway."