Creating a new connection in Carver, Scott counties

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2011 - 2:56 PM

Carver and Scott counties each will receive about 2.5 miles of new trail, but the railroad bridge across the Minnesota River that once connected them can't be saved.

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Union Pacific Railroad is demolishing an unsafe bridge in the city of Carver that has crossed the Minnesota River since the 1870s.

Photo: Tom Meersman, Star Tribune

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After months of discussion and negotiation, Carver and Scott counties are poised to take possession of about 5 miles of abandoned railway corridor in the southwest metro that can be used for trails, utility easements and future transportation routes.

The counties will close on a $2.35 million deal Thursday with Union Pacific Railroad, which stopped using the line in March 2007 after a wooden bridge trestle along the line collapsed, derailing six rail cars into a slough.

In addition to the counties, partners in the sale include the cities of Chaska and Carver and the Metropolitan Council.

"It's quite a trick to pull off, to get all these jurisdictions to agree to this purchase," said Carver County Administrator Dave Hemze.

The corridor runs southwest from United Sugars Corp. in Chaska to Carver, then southeast across a bridge over the Minnesota River to the railroad's Merriam Junction in Scott County, about midway between Shakopee and Jordan near Hwy. 169.

United Sugars has used trucks to ship and receive products since the railroad effectively abandoned the line.

A key link in the trails system

Acquiring the corridor delights Kristy Mock-Peterson, parks and recreation director for the city of Carver.

"It's a big connection piece," she said.

The trail will provide a direct link between Chaska and Carver, she said, and each city already has its own connections to other trails in the area, including the nearby Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Standing at the end of the half-demolished railroad bridge last week that overlooks the Minnesota River, Mock-Peterson said that it would have been nice to save the structure and convert it to pedestrian use, but the project would have been prohibitively expensive.

It also was impossible, said Carver County Parks Director Marty Walsh. Nearly all of the bridge's concrete piers, installed in 1917, are out of alignment, he said, the result of decades of pressure from high water, ice dams and logs. "Bridge analysis determined that it was not structurally sound," Walsh said.

The city of Carver will maintain a small portion of the railroad -- an overpass with huge stone pillars that crosses above Main Street -- as a historic reminder of where the railway once passed.

The city is also considering a plan to build an extended walkway out to the first or second bridge pier so that residents and visitors can enjoy scenic views of the river.

Removing the river bridge also will solve a safety problem, said Hemze. It was built at a major bend in the river, he said, and the curve, combined with the bridge piers, caused phenomenal logjams that threatened the city's levee system. "It's quite a sight in the spring especially," he said. "Literally thousands of logs stacked upon each other and tangled up into a big brush pile."

An excavator was picking away at the bridge last week, setting aside steel girders for scrap and removing the 1870s wooden trestles. Union Pacific is paying for the bridge demolition as part of the sales agreement, and has already removed nearly all rail and ties along the corridor.

What's next?

Before the trail receives wide public use, the portion between Chaska and Carver will be torn up to install a major sewer line.

Metropolitan Council Environmental Services is upgrading wastewater treatment in the fast-growing area, and has nearly finished a $12 million sewer project in the city of Carver. The project will enable the city to shut down its older wastewater treatment system and link to the larger metro system. The final piece is a $4 million line between Carver and Chaska.

Being able to install the underground pipe parallel to the railroad corridor is much less expensive than a different route along a roadway with a steep hill and other complications, said Bryce Pickart, assistant general manager of environmental services. "We think we're saving several hundred thousand dollars," he said.

Pickart said construction could begin soon, and will likely last until the end of 2012.

Meanwhile, Walsh said the county has applied for federal grants to pave the trail, once the sewer line is finished. "We won't find out for several months, but we're hopeful," he said.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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