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Stimulus money will extend bike trail

Project also will provide cyclists with access to rail transit

By Martiga Lohn

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — A new bike trail in Minneapolis will reach the plaza outside the new Minnesota Twins ballpark, thanks to $1.2 million in federal stimulus money.

The spending comes as national leaders are watching for wasteful uses of the money and the recession has heightened the sensitivity of putting public money into — or even near — sports arenas.

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A project coordinator with Hennepin County said the trail extension doesn’t break rules against using stimulus dollars for sports stadiums. Instead, it will employ eight to 10 people in the coming months and give cyclists a direct route to trains next to Target Field.

"Even if that facility wasn’t there, we think this would be a useful connection to have for people to get to the transit," said Chuck Ballentine, deputy coordinator of the Hennepin County Ballpark Project Office.

The Cedar Lake Trail runs from St. Louis Park to the edge of downtown Minneapolis, a few blocks from the ballpark. An extension past the stadium to the Mississippi River is already planned but not until next year, Ballentine said. Meanwhile, commuters on light-rail trains and a new commuter rail line will begin converging next to the stadium later this year.

Minnesota is receiving slightly more than $500 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for roads, bridges and a few trail projects.

The law bars colleges and schools from putting stimulus money into sports stadiums and prohibits stimulus spending on casinos, golf courses, aquariums and zoos. It doesn’t specifically address professional sports arenas, but President Obama has warned against frivolous use of the money.

The federal government gave states and regional and local governments latitude to parcel out the cash. Stimulus recipients are subject to extensive reporting requirements and audits.

Ballentine said he doesn’t remember anyone raising questions about spending stimulus money so close to the new ballpark when the project was approved last month by the Metropolitan Council. The county and the Minnesota Ballpark Authority applied jointly for the money.

The Metropolitan Council promotes an interconnected transit system that incorporates regional bicycle trails and accommodates cyclists, said Dan Wolter, a council member from Eagan. That includes the new ballpark station linking trains, buses, bike routes and the downtown skyway system. Northstar Commuter Rail trains will include bicycle storage, and light-rail train cars have bike racks.

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"Our transit system is very much engineered to cyclists," Wolter said.

Dan Kenney, who leads the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, said planners envision more train routes ending at the ballpark hub, including a second light-rail line and future commuter lines. He said the authority originally planned to use its own money to bring the bike trail to the ballpark plaza, but the federal help frees up that money for other improvements.

The authority is spending $320,000 on design, project oversight and traffic signals for the trail extension, which are costs the stimulus money doesn’t cover.

The $545 million ballpark, opening in April, is paid for with a special Hennepin County sales tax and contributions from the team’s owners. The Twins have played in the Metrodome on the other end of downtown since 1982.

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