Working to improve bicycle infrastructure and awareness in Saint Paul, MN

Saint Paul Greenway

Mission

There has long been a dream to extend the Minneapolis Greenway across the Mississippi River, along the CP-Rail tracks, past Cleveland Avenue, past Prior Avenue and down through the Ayd Mill Corridor, connecting with the I-35E bike trail, the Jefferson Bike Boulevard and Shepard Road bike trails. The Bicycle Coalition has endeavored to help make this dream a reality but has run up against some legal roadblocks.

Project Description

A Saint Paul Greenway Extension has been envisioned by advocates and the city for over 12 years and is part of many district and city transportation plans. The railroad has at least a hundred foot right-of-way through the entire corridor. Even with two tracks (and most of the corridor only has one), there is enough space for a twenty-foot bike trail along the south/west side of the rail line.

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The city spent nearly ten years attempting to negotiate with CP-Rail for a 20-foot (or less) easement on which to build a bike trail. On multiple occasions it acquired Federal funding to build the trail only to have negotiations with the railroad break down. In 2009, the city gave up negotiating and attempted to acquire the easement through condemnation. Unfortunately, the city attorney was unaware of a Federal statute that prohibits cities, counties or states from condemning active railroad land. Thus the entire condemnation was thrown out on a motion to this statute-- 49 U.S.C. § 10501(b), as broadened by the ICC Termination Act of 1995.

Inquiries with an attorney at the national group “Rails to Trails” and examinations of related case law revealed that the city’s chances of an adversarial right-of-way acquisition are next to nil. The City of Lincoln, Nebraska lost a similar case in a Federal Appeals Court in 2005, and they had much more favorable conditions in their lawsuit than we have in Saint Paul. They were trying to get an easement on a little used siding whereas we’d be trying to get one that, in part, would parallel a main line. The case citation is City of Lincoln v. STB 414 F.3D 858, 2005 U.S. App. You can read a copy of the court decision here.

Thus, the only chance of acquiring the space for a Saint Paul Greenway Extension is either through negotiation with the railroad or if the railroad abandons the property. The latter is a real possibility for parts of the route. The bridge over the Mississippi is structurally deficient and only serves a few remaining grain elevators on Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis. If the grain elevators move or close down, this part of the line could be abandoned. Once abandoned, the city could petition the Surface Transportation Board for a declaration that the land is not needed for railroad operations. Once it gets this, it can condemn an easement to build a bike trail.

Conversely, if the railroad is forced to or decides to rebuild the bridge over the Mississippi, a deal could be negotiated where the cities pay some of the costs in exchange for a bike trail easement.

We urge the city to be ready to act should either opportunity arise.