Bike, pedestrian path to connect Highland Bridge with Hidden Falls

By Jane McClure

A $1.91 million pedestrian and bicycle connection between Hidden Falls Regional Park and the Highland Bridge development on the site of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant is moving ahead with the approval of the Saint Paul City Council, Parks and Recreation Commission and Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee. The City Council was the last to sign off on the tunnel project on September 16.

The 90-foot connection will extend beneath Mississippi River Boulevard and lead to a terrace overlooking the park and its namesake waterfall. The tunnel will be lit and have limestone walls and public art. Future plans call for extending the pedestrian and bike trails further into the park on a boardwalk. The paths are expected to eventually link to Crosby Farm Regional Park and the Samuel Morgan Trail.

Council member Chris Tolbert called the tunnel connection a once-in-a-lifetime project that will make the park even more of a destination. “It’s going to be fantastic,” he said. “It (Hidden Falls Park) is misnamed now because people have found it.”

The tunnel project is an extension of the park and open space plan for Highland Bridge. It is referenced in the 2019 Hidden Falls/Crosby Farm Master Plan and the 2013 Great River Passage Plan. 

“We’re now in a position to accomplish this plan,” said Wes Saunders-Pearce, the city’s water resource coordinator. The tunnel project is also an extension of the stormwater treatment plan for Highland Bridge, which includes a large central water feature running north and south through the middle of the 122-acre site.

A 12-foot-wide paved pedestrian and bicycle trail will be added beside a manmade stream flowing under Mississippi River Boulevard to connect the Highland Bridge development with Hidden Falls Park.

The bicycle and pedestrian connection is moving ahead as a result of construction changes at Highland Bridge, Saunders-Pearce said. The City Council had to amend its budget and Ford site development plans for the project to proceed.


house ad


Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies needs to place a new storm pipe beneath Mississippi River Boulevard and change its plans for stormwater drainage, said Ellen Stewart, landscape architect for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. That allowed the connection to go forward within a limited time frame. The need to make changes for stormwater drainage first came up six months ago.

Plans for the pedestrian and bike connection took shape through the efforts of the city, the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) and Ryan. The pipe will be installed this fall, and work on the connection will continue into 2021.

“This is an opportunity we simply won’t have again,” said Melanie McMahon, the city’s project leader for the Highland Bridge development.

The plan is to add a 12-foot-wide paved trail beside an open manmade stream. Stormwater from Highland Bridge will be treated before it enters the stream. The water will then flow to Hidden Falls and the Mississippi River.

“It’s a really cool project,” said City Council president Amy Brendmoen.

Stewart said the project needs to move ahead now. “We’re not sure we could do it once Highland Bridge is built out,” she said. “It provides a strong connection between Highland Bridge and the river.”

“Public Works looked at this and it’s a shovel-ready project, ready to go,” McMahon said.

Financing the tunnel

The project’s timing required city staff to pull together money from several sources, said city treasurer Mike Solomon. That includes a grant from the CRWD ($926,063), parkland dedication funds ($110,000), bike project funds ($100,000), a general fund transfer ($100,000), tax increment financing (TIF) from the Ford site ($200,000) and a state Legacy Grant already earmarked for Hidden Falls Park ($475,000).

The CRWD provided another $795,000 to enhance stormwater and groundwater management at the development site.

The City Council and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority will act in the future to amend the Ford TIF district and expand the areas in which it can be used, including the area where the connection will be.

Parks commissioners and CIB Committee and City Council members all praised the connection plans, although all three groups had technical questions about financing and whether bike improvement funding was being diverted from other projects. The Parks and Recreation Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the project, while the CIB Committee voted unanimously in support.

Council member Rebecca Noecker asked about using the $100,000 in bike funds. She noted that the cost of adding a bike and pedestrian trail along Ayd Mill Road will tie up bike funds for several years. “What’s the trade-off here? What can we not do?” she asked.

Solomon said the bike funds could go to Highland Bridge without having to cancel other projects.

“Public Works looked at this and it’s a shovel-ready project, ready to go,” McMahon said.


The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.

Leave a Reply