CAPITAL REGION -- An additional 200 miles of bicycle and recreation trails -- enough to triple the region's network -- would be built in the Capital Region's core counties, if a new draft regional plan comes to fruition.
The Capital District Trails Plan, proposed by the Capital District Transportation Committee, suggests construction of new trail links across Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany and Rensselaer counties over the next 20 or 30 years, building on about 100 miles of trails currently in use in the region. Officials are taking public comments on the plan now.
With cycling growing in popularity for commuters, as well as people looking for safe places for outdoor recreation, new trails could have a significant economic impact, the study found. An expanded system could be used nearly 3 million times annually, with some of the users being outside visitors who would would bring new spending to the region.
"If we develop a better system with more trails, we think more people will come to use them," said Michael Franchini, CDTC's executive director.
The plan was released a year after the state began working in earnest on the Empire State Trail, a proposed 750-mile network of mostly off-road trails linking Buffalo to Albany and New York City to Canada.
Parts of the Empire State Trail, including a new link between Amsterdam and Rotterdam Junction that closes a gap in the trail, are already under construction.
"Our region is at the crossroads of the Empire State Trail project, and the Capital District Trails Plan aims to leverage this opportunity to develop a vision for the seamless network of multi-use trails that connects people with jobs, safe walking and cycling facilities, activity centers and each other," Franchini said.
The CDTC, which is made up of local elected officials and regional transportation planners, controls how federal transportation funds are spent in the four counties, and the plan could be used to support funding requests.
"This starts the process to develop these trails, because in many cases, these trails take a long time," Franchini said. "We want to give advocates some tools that they can use to advocate for these trails."
Franchini said the plan has been in development for about six months, but before that, there was extensive gathering of data about the use of the existing trail system -- data that shows Capital Region trails are used about 1.6 million times per year.
The estimated cost to build all the proposed trails -- a process that would involve local advocacy efforts and approvals -- is estimated at $154 million. It is a process CDTC officials said would be spread over two or three decades, as planning details are worked out and funding becomes available.
In Saratoga County, plans for core trails include extending the Ballston Veterans Bike Path to the Schenectady County line and linking it to the county's Zim Smith Trail in Ballston. The Zim Smith, which now covers nearly 9 miles between Ballston Spa and Halfmoon, would be extended south into Mechanicville and north to Saratoga Spa State Park, bringing total mileage to 15.7. The plans also call for filling in gaps in the Champlain Canal Trail, which, when complete, would extend continuously from Waterford to Whitehall as part of the Empire State Trail.
The draft plan also calls for construction of the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail in and around Saratoga Springs and construction of an off-road trail through Moreau and Wilton to Saratoga Springs.
In Schenectady County, planned core trails include the Schenectady Park Connector, which would link downtown's Jay Street to Central Park. A new combination of on-road and off-road trails would connect the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Hike Trail to the Ballston Veterans Bike Trail, making bicycling between Schenectady and Saratoga County easier.
There is also a proposal to extend the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail into western Schenectady County, ending in the Delanson area.
In all four counties, the plan also outlines a number of smaller trail projects linking less-central communities.
CDTC is seeking public comment through Oct. 15. People may email [email protected] and follow the hashtag #518trails on social media for updates.
CDTC hopes to have the trails plan ready for final approval by early next year, Franchini said.