Cyclists with a dream of extending the Midtown Greenway across the Mississippi River and into St. Paul are trying to muster support for a plan that petered out years ago after a legal battle.

Many hurdles remain before the trail could become reality. The greenway that cuts across south Minneapolis along an old railroad bed dead-ends just before the river, and bridging the waterway would be just one of the challenges. Then there are costs — unknown — and the trouble of negotiating with a railroad for a route through St. Paul.

But the idea was enough to lure 75 people to a meeting this week to discuss the potential, starting with the Short Line Bridge, owned by Canadian Pacific. It would be a natural connection, Midtown Greenway Coalition Executive Director Soren Jensen said.

"It's sitting there, waiting," he said. "We just need to get the political will behind it."

He wants to create a coalition, with representatives from county and city governments on both sides of the river who support using the railroad bridge. A 2006 Hennepin County study found the bridge has major structural problems. Jensen said that study didn't answer some important questions.

"Can it be repaired and how much would it cost?" he said, calling for a new study.

Meanwhile, cycling advocates said they would like to see St. Paul work on a greenway within the city, which would put additional pressure on government officials to create the bridge connection.

St. Paul previously tried to negotiate with Canadian Pacific to use part of its property for a trail, following the railroad east from the river bridge and then along Ayd Mill Road. The railroad did not support the idea, and in 2009 the City Council told staff to use condemnation if needed to acquire the property. That prompted Canadian Pacific to file a federal lawsuit challenging whether the city could use eminent domain to take railroad land.

The court sided with the railroad, and the city's efforts came to a stop.

"I think the railroad is willing to talk," City Engineer John Maczko said this week, but he suggested trail supporters reach out to the company early on.

Safety would be the railroad's number one concern in considering the bike trail, Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummins said. Without a specific proposal, Cummins said, he could not say whether the company would be interested in property negotiations.

One meeting attendee noted there is not a firm cost projection for a greenway extension, and cities already lack funding to maintain existing trails. It's a point that hit home for Maczko, who is frustrated by the lack of money for trail maintenance at all levels of government.

The city estimated in the early 2000s that it would cost $13.8 million to acquire right of way, design and build the greenway through St. Paul. The city hasn't completed a recent estimate, Maczko said, but inflation and negotiations with the railroad would likely bump the cost higher.

Min Hi Line

Biking enthusiasts who attended the Wednesday meeting had other ideas for expanding the greenway system.

South Minneapolis resident Cora Peterson, a founder of the Min Hi Line Coalition, would like to see a new greenway east of Hiawatha Avenue, in the freight rail corridor that runs parallel to the highway.

A bike trail would be just one piece of the 3-mile Min Hi Line, along with parks and amenities, between Minnehaha and Hiawatha avenues.

The line would connect to the Midtown Greenway in the north and run south to Minnehaha Regional Park. It would not be a "bike highway," Peterson said, but a place where residents are encouraged to walk, bike and play.

The Min Hi Line could drive economic growth, she said, noting that a similar trail in Atlanta has been a boon to some nearby businesses.

Greenway advocates need to reach out to small business owners who would be impacted by the new trails and get their support, St. Paul resident Amy Gage said. She lives near Cleveland Avenue, where the city's recent addition of bike lanes caused outrage from some business owners who lost on-street parking.

Jessie Van Berkel • 612-673-4649