Three grants announced this week will bring a smile to Capital Region pedestrians and bicyclists, particularly those who have been waiting years for a gap in the Erie Canalway Trail between Amsterdam and Pattersonville to be closed.
Nearly $1 million in federal highway grant funding has been allocated for the long-standing gap between finished portions of the trail. To the north, $400,000 was allocated for sidewalk improvements in Mechanicville and $1.1 million was allocated to make the southern approach to Lake George more suitable for walkers and bikers.
The Canalway Trail work in eastern Montgomery County has been on many people’s wish lists for many years.
The trail runs on old rail grades along much of the Mohawk River, acting as an artery for more than 2 million cyclists, skiers and pedestrians a year between Buffalo and Albany. There are a few gaps in the 380-mile asphalt ribbon — one of the most significant is in Montgomery County. Currently the trail ends on the east side of Amsterdam, and resumes six miles east, in Pattersonville.
“It’s a very important gap,” said Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose.
According to state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation spokesman Randy Simons, the newly funded project will help complete a missing link between the Capital Region’s popular Mohawk-Hudson Trail, which extends from Cohoes to Rotterdam Junction, and the next contiguous segment of the Canalway Trail, from Amsterdam to Little Falls. Cyclists, skiers, and pedestrians currently must use Route 5S to connect the two trails.
“Cranesville Block is right there,” Rose said. “It’s a busy section of road used by big equipment.”
That rush of tractor-trailers, Rose said, discourages local bike traffic to the east, but, more importantly, limits traffic from urban sections of the Capital Region west into Montgomery County. A string of canal communities from the south side of Amsterdam to Fort Plain are stocked with eateries ready to cater to tired cyclists.
Once the perilous six-mile roadside section of the trail is moved, Rose said, there will likely be more traffic on the trail.
In an email Thursday, Simons laid out the planned connector trail. His agency will use the $980,000 grant to pave 4.6 miles of the 6-mile gap between Amsterdam and Pattersonville and rehabilitate old railroad bridges over Terwilliger Creek and Bulls Head Creek. A little more than a mile of the trail will still run along Route 5S.
“The project will follow the alignment of the former West Shore Railroad, which parallels the south bank of the Mohawk River,” he wrote.
Since the trail will run on the old rail grade, minimal earth movement will be required, eliminating a potentially significant expense. And since the land is already designated for the trail, no purchase is necessary.
Dan Keefe, another Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation spokesman, said the project will likely go out to bid this summer.
The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration through the state Department of Transportation. It’s part of $67 million in funding for 63 bicycle, pedestrian and multi-use path enhancement projects across the state that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation applied for the Canalway Trail grant last year. According to information released by the governor’s office, the grants cover 80 percent of the cost of each project, with each project’s sponsor kicking in the remaining 20 percent.
While federal grant money bound for the Canalway Trail will cover the rehabilitation of two pedestrian bridges in Montgomery County, none of the $980,000 will be directed to bridging the current trail gap over the Otsquago Creek in Fort Plain.
Until June, the trail was supported by a 380-ton former rail bridge over the creek. Then the flash flooding that put mud in scores of village homes and businesses also loosened the bridge from its foundations. All 380 tons had to be cut and removed to avoid accidentally damming the creek, and ever since, cyclists have been re-routed over the Route 5S bridge.
Rose said the county has a trail maintenance agreement with the state. County employees trim weeds and brush back from the trail and fill potholes.
“The maintenance agreement doesn’t cover the replacement of bridges,” he said.
Simons said his office has secured some funding for a new Otsquago Creek bridge from the state Environmental Protection Fund.
“This bridge will soon enter the design phase,” he said, adding that the rest of the timetable is still being worked out.
The grants announced by Cuomo also included $400,000 for a sidewalk project in Mechanicville and $1.1 million for pedestrian-bicycle improvements along the southern Route 9 entrance to Lake George.
In Mechanicville, the money will be used for a project on North Central Avenue that will improve the sidewalk and crosswalk connections between the downtown business district and Price Chopper Plaza and the planned Esplanade 294-unit residential development at the city’s north end.
The project will make it easier to walk or bicycle between those destinations and downtown, which are about a quarter-mile apart. It could also link to a new railroad station that has been proposed near Price Chopper, should passenger service to the city be restored.
The Lake George project would follow up on a gateway plan developed in 2010 by the town of Lake George, which wanted to create a more welcoming southern entrance to the village.
The $1.1 million would pay for sidewalk and bike lane improvements, new signs, new, green drainage for stormwater and traffic-calming measures along a three-quarter mile stretch of Route 9 between Northway Exit 21 and Birch Avenue, near where the village commercial development starts.
There would also be a new parking area built for users of the Warren County bike trail, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani.