by CHRIS ROGERS
On Monday, the Winona City Council endorsed a grant application to build a pedestrian bridge over Highway 61. Winona citizen Lynn Carlson wrote a grant seeking state gambling proceeds to fund an estimated $3.5-million walkway that would connect the east end of Lake Park to East Lake Boulevard, at the base of Sugar Loaf.
Carlson’s proposal would seek funding from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which makes recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend lottery proceeds in the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund on projects that will preserve and enhance Minnesota’s natural resources. Anyone may apply, there is no limit on how much funding applicants may request, and no requirement for the city to provide matching funds.
Carlson’s grant application was inspired in part by the death of a 17-year-old boy who was struck by a car on East Lake Boulevard while bicycling last summer. “I’ve been thinking about this for years,” Carlson told the council. “I’ve tried to walk across Highway 61 at Mankato [Avenue] and I’ve tried to ride my bike across Highway 61 at Mankato [Avenue] and it is not a pleasant experience. I’ve had it in the back of my head for years, and I thought it would be a great way to improve the city … It just seemed like something we should have, especially with kids going to school.”
Council member Al Thurley was skeptical of the need for such a structure. “I haven’t heard a great hue and cry to get us a pedestrian bridge over Highway 61,” he said.
In the city’s 2007 comprehensive plan and its more recent 2017 walking and biking plan, pedestrians and bicyclists have pointed to crossing Highway 61 in general, and Mankato Avenue in particular, as one of the most problematic areas in the city.
City Council member Michelle Alexander said she appreciated Carlson’s proposal, but that the exact location and design of such a structure should be looked at more carefully if the project does receive funding. Carlson had initially proposed locating the pedestrian bridge at Parks Avenue, which bisects the east end of Lake Park; however, she said that the Minnesota Department of Transportation would help guide the final location decision. Alexander said that building a pedestrian bridge immediately adjacent to Mankato Avenue, on the west side of the street, would be a better location because it is already seen and used as a crossing location. “I’m not opposed at all to this, but I just think we should be aware there could be better locations,” she said.
Thurley was also concerned about how endorsing Carlson’s grant application would affect the city’s ability to win other lottery proceed grants. The city applied for a $400,000 grant from the same fund for upgrading the Prairie Island boat landing. City manager Steve Sarvi said that more funding requests should not hurt the city. There is no limit on how much one entity can receive, and some other communities have won grants from the trust fund over and over again, he said. “Much like Red Wing gets money from many sources, we’ve got to stop being shy about applying for these funds,” Sarvi told the council.
Carlson is just a citizen who decided to write a grant application. Council member Pam Eyden told her, “I really appreciate you observing what you think is a need in town and your taking initiative.”
Carlson said that while the grant program was highly competitive, she had gotten a lot of advice and positive feedback from the grantors and other agencies.
The LCCMR will make recommendations later this year that will be considered in the 2019 legislative session.