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DOT: Tunnels under tracks could close trail gaps

DOT: Tunnels under tracks could close trail gaps

Decision due by the end of the year

ROTTERDAM -- The state Department of Transportation would like to build tunnels under railroad tracks to close both gaps in the Erie Canalway Trail in the Rotterdam Junction area, state officials said Thursday.

A pedestrian-bicycle tunnel under the Pan Am Railway tracks at Scrafford Lane and a similar tunnel under the CSX bridge in Pattersonville are the preferred alternatives and are within the project budget, though other options are under consideration, residents were told.

“The preferred alternative in both instances is the tunnel," said Andy Beers, executive director of the Empire State Trail. “We have essentially six months to make the decision with input from you and further studies.”

Beers and DOT officials outlined options for closing the two long-existing  gaps at a meeting at the Rotterdam Junction fire station attended by about 80 people. DOT officials expect to make a final decision on the choices by the end of the year. Construction is planned for 2020.

The gaps require anyone riding a bike to use state Route 5S. The state wants to eliminate on-road trails as part of the $200 million Empire State Trail plan, which calls for a statewide multi-use trail system.

In Rotterdam Junction, the preferred alternative is to go under the Pan Am tracks and then follow the old Erie Canal towpath to where the trail resumes at Iroquis Lane. That could be done for an estimated $2.3 million, just under the $2.4 million in state funding allocated for the project.

Other options considered include building parallel to the Pan Am tracks from near the SI Group complex to Iroquis Lane, or building a new bike lane along Roue 5S.

Several residents said they'd like see the section of trail that now dead-ends at the railroad tracks preserved, even if another alternative is selected.

Farther west, where there's a one-mile gap at Pattersonville, the preferred alternative to is build the trail on a state-owned abandoned rail right-of-way, with a pedestrian-bike tunnel under the CSX railroad tracks near where a rail bridge crosses Route 5S. That would be done for 3.06 million; the project budget is $3 million.

DOT project manager Jim Boni said other alternatives in that area would be more expensive and would have other drawbacks, such as more private property acquisition.

If the tunnels are built, which would require agreement from each of the railroads, Schenectady County has agreed to own and maintain them.

“The good news is we have the budget in both situations to do the tunnels," Boni said.

Rotterdam Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone said he was thrilled about the gaps being closed and the economic potential of increased use of the trail.

“It’s an exciting project for the town, but also for the Junction it has commercial potential," Tommasone said.

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

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