The state has postponed indefinitely efforts to finish gaps in the 524-mile long Canalway Trail System, including a six-mile gap between Rotterdam Junction and Amsterdam.
A state official cited a need to repair dams and canal locks as pre-empting bike path work.
Schenectady County officials and bicycle enthusiasts called the state’s decision unfortunate.
The state had planned to close the Rotterdam Junction and Amsterdam gap this year. Had it been completed, the bike trail would have run unbroken for 40 miles from Montgomery County to the Albany County line.
To date, the state has completed approximately 260 miles of the Canalway Trail System, leaving unfinished sections in Oneida, Herkimer and Erie counties. The trail system consists of four segments: the 100-mile Erie Canal Heritage Trail in western New York; the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Park Trail in central New York; the 60-mile Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway in eastern New York; and the eight-mile Glens Falls Feeder Canal Trail.
New York State Canal Corp. Director Carmella R. Mantello said Thursday that the state is using its money to repair dams and locks along the canal, which she termed high-priority infrastructure projects.
Major projects are under way at Lock 14 in Canajoharie, costing $17 million, and at Lock 10 in Cranesville, costing approximately $12 million, she said.
Mantello said the state’s fiscal problems prompted the decision.
“Over past three to four years, the state Thruway Authority, which oversees the Canal Corp., has experienced a budget revenue shortfall,” she said.
“We had to re-evaluate our capital program, and we have deferred some projects to address infrastructure projects,” Mantello said. “The infrastructure is aging; some of it is over 100 years old. There are safety issues.”
The state announced in 2005 that it would spend $6 million over three years to close the Rotterdam Junction-Amsterdam gap. It planned to acquire rights of way along the abandoned CSX Transportation and New York Central rail lines, to build a tunnel under railroad tracks owned by Guilford Rail System in Rotterdam Junction and to pave the six-mile-long trail.
Mantello said the state is still negotiating with the railroads. She added that the state is also seeking other ways to complete the bikeway.
It has asked the federal government for money and is working with the nonprofit Parks & Trails NY group, she said.
In fact, the state and Parks & Trails NY are sponsoring this year’s Cycling the Erie Canal tour from Buffalo to Albany. The eight-day tour runs through Sunday and involves around 500 cyclists from 35 states.
“We all recognize the economic benefits of the trail. Right now, 500 cyclists are spending money in communities and businesses are popping up along the canal system. But at same time, there is limited dollars and resources,” Mantello said.
Frances Gotcsik of Parks & Trails NY said her group is working with community agencies and others in an attempt to finish work along the canalway trail.
“We are aware some projects have been deferred, and our goal is to find a way to get them done,” she said. “Trail projects can take a long time to get done. Our goal is to help others get the trail completed.”
Jennifer Clunie, program manager for the 700-member Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club, said she was disappointed.
“We would like to see the state fulfill its pledge and finish the path,” she said.
Clunie said more people are taking to bicycling as a form of transportation as well as for fitness and recreation.
“A lot of individuals look for bike paths. These paths have a sense of safety and security. A lot of walkers, roller bladers as well as people with strollers use them,” she said. “If these canal paths are not finished, people may look to go to other areas.”
DOWNTOWN WORK DONE
Ray Gillen, Schenectady County commissioner for economic planning and development, called the canalway trail an important recreation and tourism resource for the area. He called the state announcement unfortunate.
Schenectady County recently completed connecting the bikeway from Schenectady County Community College to the Stockade.
It is also working on connecting the bike trail from the Stockade to Central Park and Vale Park. Once this work is done, the bikeway will run uninterrupted from SCCC to the Albany County line, Gillen said.
In addition, the county recently obtained $148,000 from the Capital District Transportation Committee to improve the bikeway where it crosses Route 5S in Rotterdam Junction.
Cyclist Alan Fairbanks of Burnt Hills was killed at the spot in 2006.
The goal is to hire an engineer to devise ways to make motorists more aware that cyclists use the crossing, Gillen said.
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Categories: Schenectady County