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Figures regarding trail maintenance disputed

To the Editor:
As an avid bicyclist, local elected official, member of the county trail committee, and county taxpayer, I am in tune to the discussions that have taken place regarding development of the Dakota Rail Trail in McLeod County.
Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation has been disseminated to try to derail this effort. A recent letter to the editor in The Chronicle (“How can county afford millions for another trail?”) is the latest example.  Basically, everything regarding the project in this letter is wrong.
First, the engineering is being done as an “in-kind” contribution to the project and will not be an out-of-pocket expense. The work will be shared by the county and city of Hutchinson’s engineering staff and the “value” is placed at $160,000 based on a percentage of the construction costs, which is standard practice.  
Second, there is no reason to expect that the trail will need to be repaved during the county’s required 20-year maintenance period. One of the biggest determinants for the life of a trail (or road) is the quality of its base. Rail lines converted to trails have the best base possible because they were designed to carry heavy trains.
One only needs to look at the original Luce Line through Hutchinson as an example. That paving was in place for 18 years before it was repaved as part of the DNR’s 2015 paving project. This section wasn’t repaved because it absolutely needed to be, but rather because it was an opportunity to do it as a part of the main project. This would save money in the long run and give the trail another 25 years or more of life.
There are numerous other rail trail examples across the state that support this life cycle, both by experience and now data. An analysis of the condition of 589 miles of paved state trails was conducted last year that synced GPS data to vibration levels measured by an accelerometer mounted to a bike. After analyzing the data each trail (and section of trail) was graded as excellent, good, fair and poor. Then information was obtained by the DNR about when each trail was last paved.  From that a “trail aging curve” was developed that showed that after 20 years, a typical trail is just moving from the good to fair condition. Fair conditions typically last from year 20 through year 28.
To say, then, that the Dakota will need to be repaved “at least once” during the county’s 20-year maintenance period is without warrant. True, some crack filling, seal coating and patching may be needed.  However, the county will have the ability to determine the level of maintenance that is done, just like it determines the level of maintenance on county roads, and the cost should be fairly minimal on a yearly average. Plus, a variety of partnerships are possible that can reduce some of the county’s yearly maintenance.
Will repaving be needed at some point? Sure, but after 20 years the county’s commitment to that maintenance will be over and other funding options can be explored. No one knows what those will be now, but in the end it will be up to the county board at that time to make the determination of what action to take, if any.   
Over the last 21⁄2 years, I have ridden nearly 10,000 miles on my bike. Some of this has been on trails locally and around the state, but much of it has been on our county roads from Hutch to Stewart, Brownton, Glencoe, Lester Prairie, Winsted, Cedar Mills and north to Cokato, Dassel and Litchfield. Often I am surprised how little traffic I see and traffic count maps show there are a number of roads that only see several hundred cars a day, if that. Many are roads that most county residents rarely drive on, yet we make significant investment in them year round.  We do that because they are part of a transportation system that provides connections, convenience, increased safety and economic benefits.
Why, then, can’t we make a comparatively small investment to have a park and trail system that connects communities and destinations, provides health and recreation benefits, connects people to nature, improves safety, provides economic benefit and makes our county a more attractive place to live?
We have an opportunity to develop the Dakota in a responsible, cost effective manner. Paved trails are the norm because they serve the most people and the greatest variety of uses. We would be foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity to pave the Dakota and see those dollars go to other counties for the benefit of their residents and businesses.
Steve Cook
Hutchinson