SARATOGA SPRINGS — Construction of a long contemplated trail connection in the urban hub could begin this spring, Tina Carton, the city’s administrator of parks, open lands and historic preservation, told the city council this week.
The 1.66-mile Saratoga Greenbelt Trail Downtown Connector, from Lake Avenue to Route 50 at Exit 15, is part of a larger project called the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail that envisions a 24-mile trail loop through the city, Carton said.
The greenbelt trail would serve as the foundation for the city’s active mobility system, with complete streets improvements forming radial spokes into the center of the city and the Saratoga County Trails network, providing connections across the county.
The greenbelt trail is part of an even larger plan — the Capital District Trails Plan aims to expand 89 miles of trails to 289 miles – while connecting trails in Saratoga County.
The downtown connector involves a redesign of the intersection at High Rock Avenue, Excelsior Avenue and Warren Street, whose current configuration would force trail users to cross travel lanes without a stop sign. It would also pose a risk to motorists who aren’t familiar with the intersection.
The project, which runs parallel to Route 9, would install 10-foot wide shared paths that are completely off road, while filling in six missing sidewalk links.
Greenman-Pedersen Inc. prepared the preliminary and final engineering plans.
The state Department of Transportation is responsible for the project’s adherence to federal and state regulations, and it provided a $1.5 million grant for the $3.8 million project. The Department of Environmental Conservation awarded $1.13 million. The city’s local contribution is $1.13 million, Carton said.
In addition to the city, the City Center and local developers contributed financially to the project.
Plans for the connector were finalized in 2016, with funding secured by January 2017.
Carton spoke of increased use of trails even before the pandemic began in March 2020. She said the findings of the Rails to Trails Conservancy showed national trail use had increased 79% prior to COVID, Carton said, with most respondents stating it’s important to have access to places to walk and bike separately from vehicular traffic. Most respondents also said trails contribute significantly to a community’s wellbeing.
Use of the 11.5-mile Zim Smith Trail from Ballston Spa to Mechanicville, and other regional trails has exploded during the pandemic, and everyone is getting outside more to these healthy spaces, Carton said.
Trail counts were conducted in 2016 and 2018 by the Capital District Transportation Committee of Saratoga Springs Railroad Run, a half-mile trail in Saratoga Springs that connects West Circular Street to Congress Avenue and yields entry to the state park, indicating there were 127,000 annual users.
The city’s Spring Run Trail, a mile-long walking trail that takes users from East and Excelsior avenues toward an area of wetlands that ends just before the Northway, had 64,000 annual users. Those data points indicate the city has a real need for these types of trails and outdoor space, Carton said.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.