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Bicyclists traveling between St. Paul and Washington County would have an uninterrupted off-highway trail along the Mississippi River Trail for the first time under a plan approved by the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday.

The Point Douglas Regional Trail would connect the Mississippi River Valley trails between St. Paul and Washington County and allow bike riders to get off the roads.

Drivers have traveled this route for years, but there is no current contiguous off-street trail away from cars, said Brett Hussong, project manager for the city Parks and Recreation Department.

This trail will be off the roadway, separate from vehicles.

"It's going to be a great linking trail for people of all ages and abilities," Hussong said.

The trail offers vistas of downtown St. Paul and Pig's Eye Regional Park. Another off-highway bike trail, the Gateway State Trail, connects St. Paul to Washington County to the north.

This extension of the bike system is really crucial for the East Side, said Council Member Jane Prince, who represents the area.

"In that part of town, there are no sidewalks; there are no safe places to walk a dog or for a family to use the outdoors," Prince said. "This will make a huge difference in terms of making it a safe, walkable, likeable place for people to enjoy.'"

Based on feedback from community members gathered from Zoom meetings and focus groups, the trail will feature lighting, shade, drinking fountains, benches and multilingual signage.

"What we're trying to do is create a space that can be used by all people," Hussong said. "Through the process, we understood that we need more map locations out there, we need to have them in multiple languages."

The cost estimate for the full trail connection from Sam Morgan Regional Trail to Washington County is about $8 million, Hussong said.

"This is an area that has been overlooked, with the highway and the train track," Council Member Dai Thao said. "I definitely think this will increase value to St. Paul and the neighborhoods along the bike trail."

In 2019, the comparably sized Bruce Vento Regional Trail and Trout Brook Regional Trail had estimated 275,000 and 150,000 visitors respectively, according to the Metropolitan Council.

The Met Council is expected to approve the plan in March. Afterward, the parks department can apply for regional trail funding for design and implementation.

Correction: Previous versions of the story failed to mention the Gateway State Trail, an existing off-highway bike route between St. Paul and Washington County.