The meandering Mississippi River forms the southern border of the northern suburb of Ramsey — but most of the city's residents have to cross a giant highway to reach it.
The solution, according to city officials? A "Mississippi Skyway" stretching from Ramsey's downtown center and its Northstar rail station to a regional trail alongside the river.
City officials are expected to request $3.7 million in federal money this summer to build the bike and pedestrian bridge across Hwy. 10, the main thoroughfare connecting the developing Anoka County suburb of 26,000 residents with the rest of the metro area.
Parks Superintendent Mark Riverblood said the bridge would make it much easier for residents to reach Mississippi West Regional Park as well as a regional trail there that follows the river.
"It's not just connecting our downtown, although that's plenty of value there, but really providing a connection for the rest of Ramsey safely over to their regional park," said Riverblood, who will seek final approval from the City Council before making the application.
The project competed for federal funds once before, in 2016, but failed to score high enough to win approval from the regional transportation board that doles out the money.
Its ranking fell partly because of low potential usage, a measure of how many people live and work around the project as compared with other projects seeking money. About 5,200 people live within a mile of the proposed bridge, according to the city's 2016 application.
A growing number of people live in the COR — short for the Center of Ramsey — which is a walkable district adjacent to the city's Northstar rail stop. About 167 people each day typically board the train there, nearly six years after it opened to passengers, according to Metropolitan Council data.
The station is connected via a skyway to a parking ramp and the COR area. The city hopes to extend the enclosed skyway onto an outdoor bridge that crosses the highway and terminates in a circular ramp near the regional trail.
"After you cross the new pedestrian bridge, once it's built, and then through the skyway, you'd end up in … the third floor of the rail station," Riverblood said. "You could either choose in this case to pedal down to ground elevation, or walk your bike into the elevator and take it straight down."
Riverblood said that busy Hwy. 10 currently poses a major barrier. Downtown residents must either grapple with 60 mile-per-hour traffic crossing Ramsey Boulevard, or walk nearly 2 miles to cross a bridge at Armstrong Boulevard.
The new bridge would provide a more direct connection to the Mississippi River Regional Trail, which follows the river through the countryside.
"Various … entities are filling in the gaps for a trail that, when complete, will go from Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota all the way to New Orleans," Riverblood said. "That's 3,000 miles. That's a big trail."
A grant of about half a million dollars from the National Park Service has helped pay for planning the bridge project. City staff are preparing options for how to cover the anticipated local cost of about $800,000, should the application for federal funds be successful.
"There is not a Plan B," Riverblood said. "We believe that this project with all its benefits and safety attributes is exactly where these federal funds should be invested."