Meeting set on closing Empire State Trail gaps

Town officials hope Rotterdam Junction flood drainage can be addressed
Cyclists on the Erie Canalway Trail in Schenectady in 2015.
Cyclists on the Erie Canalway Trail in Schenectady in 2015.

ROTTERDAM — Town officials are hoping flooding problems can be addressed and sidewalks built in Rotterdam Junction, as the state considers how to close local gaps in the Erie Canalway Trail.

The state Department of Transportation will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 7 in the Rotterdam Junction fire station on Main Street (Route 5S) to discuss ways to close gaps where the off-road trail runs along Main Street.

To develop the statewide Empire State Trail, the state wants to close gaps at the PanAm Railway crossing at Scrafford Lane, and another gap about a mile west in Pattersonville, where the trail needs to cross Route 5S next to a CSX rail bridge. Both gaps have existed for decades, but this year $7 million in state funding was made available as part of the high-profile Empire State Trail project.

Town officials hope a separate project to address flooding in Rotterdam Junction can be completed at the same time, though they also said they’re thrilled the trail gaps may be closed, which could bring more bicyclists through Rotterdam Junction. Bicycle tourists could spend money in local stores or stay to visit the nearby Mohawk River.

“We want to see the gaps closed and pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements wherever we can,” said Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone. “The state recognizes that the trail is vital to the economic vitality of a lot of communities along the trail.”

Ideas discussed at the Scrafford Lane location include building a tunnel under the rails, which are owned by PanAm Railways. That was among the recommendations of a 2014 report by the state’s Office of Storm Recovery. Such a tunnel could provide additional drainage during the kind of flooding that struck Rotterdam Junction in 2011 — but there’s no state commitment to that solution.

“We are very early in the preliminary design stage of the project,” regional DOT Design Engineer James C. Boni wrote in a recent notice to the town of Rotterdam.

The June 7 meeting will follow a familiar DOT format, in which options will be outlined and informal responses sought.

“Basically, we will be presenting the various alternatives we are considering for each site and looking for public feedback at that meeting,” said DOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani.

Tommasone said addressing flooding issues will require a larger effort than just building a tunnel under the railroad tracks, but he hopes any trail work can be coordinated with making hamlet-wide drainage improvements.

“We realize from the flooding from the 2011 storms (tropical storms Irene and Lee) and repeated rain events that we have to do a long-term solution for Lock Street and some of the flooding issues along in there,” Tommasone said. “We hope the state will work with us … It’s more than just the tunnel, it’s main drainage improvements that will run along Lock Street and through that area.”

The 750-mile Empire State Trail, a major initiative of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2017, is supposed to be complete by 2020. Because of the complexity in closing the Rotterdam gaps, Empire State Trail Executive Director Andy Beers said earlier this spring that he expected neither gap to be addressed before 2020.

The 360-mile trail from Buffalo to Albany is about 80 percent complete, and closing gaps across the state is one of the trail plan’s priorities. Gaps in the trail force users to ride their bicycles on roadways, which is considered less safe than off-road trails.

Boni said DOT is working with the town, Schenectady County and the two railroads involved to come up with solutions.

A longer gap in the trail, covering about 5 miles from the town of Florida to Pattersonville, is in the process of being closed through an Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation construction project that started this spring and is expected to be completed this summer.

Tommasone said town officials are also exploring whether they can get federal grant money to build sidewalks along Route 5S in Rotterdam Junction.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Leave a Reply