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Regional bike trail plan finalized

Regional bike trail plan finalized

Plans sees Capital Region at crossroads of statewide trail system
Regional bike trail plan finalized
Cyclists are seen along the Erie Canalway/ Hudson-Mohawk Bike Hike Trail in Schenectady in 2015.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Daily Gazette Photographer

CAPITAL DISTRICT -- Construction of the statewide Empire State Trail could bring new visitors to the Capital Region and provide a reason to expand the area's biking and hiking trail system, according to a new report.

The Capital District Trails Plan, recently completed by the Capital District Transportation Committee, recommends construction of 200 new miles of trail over the next 20 years, at an estimated cost of $154 million.

The study, in development for more than a year, compiled data on trail use and economic impacts. The CDTC said it could serve as a master plan for developing bike and pedestrian connections between cities, towns and villages in Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties.

More from this week: Our top stories Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2019

The Empire State Trail, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo began pushing for in 2017 -- parts of which are already under construction -- calls for 750 miles of trail connecting New York City to Canada and Buffalo to Albany. The trails will converge in the Capital Region, the plan notes, and developing a local trail system for people to use could result in an additional $23.7 million in annual tourism spending.

"It's going to be a major part of our trail system," said Michael Franchini, executive director of the Capital District Transportation Committee. "I'm looking forward to it. That's going to be a great addition to the New York trail system and to tourism ... I think there will be more people doing those long tourism trips once this is built."

The CDTC's role is to study the region's transportation needs, and the trail plan will become part of its larger New Visions 2045 plan. CDTC controls the spending of federal transportation funding in the region, so approval of the plan could lead to federal funding for specific projects.

The plan is subject to approval by CDTC's Policy Committee, which meets next on March 7 in Colonie. Once approved, it could serve as the basis for feasibility studies and refined cost estimates for specific trail projects, so the towns, cities and villages can consider applying for funding, Franchini said.

"For a lot of the trails, we don't have enough details to look for funding," he said.

The four counties have about 100 miles of trails now, and a 2016 trail count estimated a total of 1.6 million people use those trails annually.

The plan was released a year after the state began working in earnest on the Empire State Trail, parts of which include a new link between Amsterdam and Rotterdam Junction to close a gap in the trail. That link is already under construction.

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 those users coming from outside the region, bringing new spending.

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.

The cost to build all the proposed trails is estimated at $154 million and would likely take two or three decades, the CDTC said.

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.

Gaps in the Champlain Canal Trail would also be addressed. When complete, that trail 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- and off-road trails would connect the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Hike Trail to the Ballston Veterans Bike Trail, making cycling 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.

More from this week: Our top stories Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2019

In all four counties, the plan also outlines a number of smaller trail projects linking less central communities.

The plan was developed by CDTC along with Behan Planning and Design of Saratoga Springs, The Chazen Companies of Troy, Sidekick Creative of Glens Falls and ConsultEcon of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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

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