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The Farmington Canal Linear Trail will be heading north after the Cheshire Town Council allocated more than $812,000 in grant funding for the expansion project.
On Dec. 14, the Council accepted a $250,000 state Department of Environmental Protection grant to be used for the expansion of the trail. The Town already had $562,000 in federal grant funds in its coffers and the original plan was to continue moving the trail north from its current stopping point on Cornwall Avenue. The Town had planned to acquire some land through a right-of-way and navigate the tricky wetlands from Cornwall Avenue up through West Main Street. However, the Council felt it was more beneficial to start from West Main Street and head towards Jarvis Street with the funding available.
"We applied for these grants and were fortunate to receive them," explained Councilor and Budget Committee Chairman David Schrumm.
The Council appears committed to including the remaining balance of the project, which could be more than $1 million, in the 2011/2012 Capital Budget. According to estimates provided by consultants Milone and MacBroom, the portion of the trail from West Main to Jarvis would run approximately 8,100 linear feet. Their estimated cost was $2.4 million, but Councilor James Sima said that number is no longer accurate based on some new information from the state. He explained that the state is willing to design the trail north towards Southington, where that town has recently completed their own section of the trail.
The state's offer to design the trail could save as much as $300,000 for the Town, Sima explained, which he said was "significant."
"This would be a real nice piece of trail to finish up," he added.
Additionally, land near the Department of Correction on Jarvis Street could be used for a parking lot, Sima explained. Councilor Anne Giddings said the grants were "really useful" and, since the state was willing to design the trail, she believed the Town "can do a significant portion of the trail within the grant."
"This is not bread and butter necessarily, so I hope costs can be reduced," Giddings said, noting she was concerned about the finances of Cheshire residents.
Newly-seated Councilor Patti Flynn-Harris said she was supportive of extending the trail, but was originally more in favor of connecting to Cheshire's current section at Cornwall. However, after seeing the completed trail in Southington, she said it would be a good move to connect further north and work down to West Main Street.
For many years, Town officials have grappled with a safe way to cross West Main Street when the trail inevitability hits the busy state road. With the West Main Streetscape project underway, the state is prepared to do some of its own work in the area next summer. When the state Department of Transportation is putting in a new culvert under the road, it will also be installing an island of refuge in the center of West Main where the trail would cross. The DOT states the travel lanes would narrow, thus having a natural slowing effect on traffic. Additionally, warning lights and crosswalk buttons would be installed to help pedestrians safely cross the road.
"I began to wonder if the trail would ever be completed, but it's proven itself to be a wonderful thing," Schrumm explained. "This became not just a Town issue, but a regional issue. There has been a big push to connect cities, and even states."
When Southington was looking to complete its portion of trail to the Cheshire town line, a multi-million dollar grant seemingly "fell from the sky," Schrumm suggested, because their project was designed and ready to be built. Sima said he wants this project to be "shovel ready" in case there are state or federal funds available to complete the trail. He said he was pleased the state would design it and not a private construction company working with known funding.
"I want it to be properly designed, not designed to a number," Sima explained. "We need to be ready to go, so if there is money, we can go ahead and do it."
The other portion of the trail, the 3,500 linear foot section from Cornwall to West Main, was projected to cost $1.17 million. Sima said there were complications in this section, however, because of the wetlands and the need for raised boardwalks. There was also a long-standing legal battle between the Town and Dalton Enterprises, which has since been resolved. Schrumm said this could be good news for residents in the future.
"With a little luck, this might reach completion in several years," Schrumm said. "I am happy to see that. This is great."