ROTTERDAM — For decades, a section of the Erie Canalway Trail has dead-ended at railroad tracks in Rotterdam Junction, forcing bicyclists and walkers to either turn around or trespass on the tracks to reach Scrafford Lane.
It's a long-standing problem that may soon be addressed, as the state develops the $200 million Empire State Trail.
"Right now, for bicycle and pedestrian use, there's no legal way across there," said Andy Beers, Empire State Trail executive director.
The state plans to develop a legal crossing point and close a 5-mile gap in the trail in the Pattersonville area as part of the project. It also will link existing trails and develop new sections to create a 750-mile statewide recreational trail system.
There's roughly $7 million in state funding assigned to close the two Rotterdam gaps, which break what are otherwise miles of off-road riding.
"People had ideas of what could happen, and now we've got the money to actually run those things down and see if they're feasible," Beers said.
At Scrafford Lane, the most-discussed idea is to put a pedestrian tunnel under the PanAm Railways tracks. Beers said the state is conducting a feasibility study to see if that's a practical solution.
"The engineering challenge is how to get over the railroad or under the tracks," Beers said. "The railroad has indicated they would be willing to consider that, as long as it doesn't interfere with the safety of or with railroad operations."
In addition to finding a way to cross the tracks, the plan is to extend the trail off-road to Iroquois Street, so cyclists would no longer have to travel a short distance on state Route 5s to reach the Iroquois Street trailhead.
The results of the feasibility study could be presented to the public this summer, Beers said, with the goal of having a full design completed in 2019 and construction in 2020.
Town officials, who have talked about finding ways to cross the tracks for at least a decade, also hope a tunnel under the tracks could help drain a low-lying area.
"It's one of those things where there's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get it done," said Peter Comenzo, the town' senior planner.
"The town's thrilled," he said of the state's plans. "Obviously, because of the proximity to the Capital Region and population centers, I would think this would be one of the more pressing gaps."
The other trail gap the state plans to close is about 5 miles long, from where the trail now ends at a CSX railroad bridge over Route 5s, just west of Rotterdam Junction, through Pattersonville to the Montgomery County line.
"These are both complicated projects. That's why they're down for 2020," Beers said.