By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The first informational meeting for the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail Gap Closure Study recently kicked off with a good turnout of people from Plainville and other surrounding communities.
Conducted by the Capital Region Council of Governments, the study aims to close the gap in the trail through Southington and Plainville while identifying a connection to the CTfastrak station in New Britain. CRCOG has partnered with consultant VHB, along with firms Mobycon and Bluezones for the project. Other project stakeholders include the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), the town of Plainville, the town of Southington, the city of New Britain, and the Plainville Greenway Alliance.
“Other people will be involved with our team as we move forward David Head, senior transportation engineer for VHB, during the July 26 meeting held at Plainville Public Library.
Known as one of the most historic greenways in New England, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is an 84-mile multi-use trail that stretches from New Haven to Northampton, Mass. Although most of the trail is complete or in the process of being designed, the only gap in the trail is through the town of Plainville and into Southington. “This Plainville piece is a critical piece in completing that gap,” said Head.
The study will determine a corridor for closing the gap in Plainville and Southington, said Head. The Plainville section has not been completed because of an active rail line that exists within the trail corridor.
“It has been studied before, but didn’t progress,” said Head. “It was due basically to the difficulty… of an active rail line [in Plainville] and they never got down to choosing an option.”
The study team also is working to find possible routes that would connect the trail with Plainville, New Britain, Southington and the CTfastrak station in New Britain through a world-class multi-use trail network. The recent opening of CTfastrak includes a new multi-use trail for central Connecticut. Connecting the trail to CTfastrak and its adjacent multi-use trail would further enhance the bicycle and pedestrian amenities in the region, and since all CTfastrak buses are equipped with bicycle racks, this connection can extend the distance that cyclists travel to reach their destination, according to the study team.
A major part of the project is public outreach to better understand what residents envision a trail to look like in their communities. Before the first public meeting, the study team held a series of focus groups throughout the day in Plainville.
The study team will engage the public through workshops and other meetings over the course of 18 months. The study is expected to be completed next summer.
Head encouraged residents to share their feedback on the study.
“We’ll be listening… as to what you feel this trail should look like or this connection should look like both in Plainville and New Britain,” Head told the public. “That’s why we’re here.”
During the meeting, members of the audience had a chance to ask the study team questions. One concern brought up by some residents dealt with how the project would affect property owners and businesses located near the trail’s route when that is determined.
“There is no intent by either CRCOG…or the town of Plainville…or the DOT…of taking any property by imminent domain or otherwise for the trail,” said Mark Jewell of VHB.
Town Manager Robert Lee said he sees the trail benefitting Plainville in two major ways: bringing people into the community and creating a safe alternative form of transportation when getting to a certain destination in town.
“Having this trail come through Plainville is going to have tremendous benefits in many ways,” said Lee. “I’m very excited about this…process.”
From recreation to access to transportation to economic development, communities choose trails for a variety of reasons, said Dan Burden of Bluezones during the meeting.
Burden also shared some data with the public regarding the kind of impact that trails had on particular communities nationwide. Within a 10-year-span (from 1980 to 1990), Portland, Ore. chose to go with transit and walking/bicycling, and the affect was substantial, said Burden.
“As a result of doing that, they dropped their property taxes [by] 29 percent,” said Burden. “They reduced their air pollution [by] 86 percent and the quality of life increased [by] 19 percent.”
When addressing the issue of funding for the project, Head said ConnDOT will likely be the funding source for trail’s design and construction.
“The towns need to be able to go to DOT with a defined alignment,” said Head.
Burden noted the importance of gathering ideas and concepts together before seeking any funding source to say that the community is united behind the project.
“The work that we’re positioned to do, most of it in October is going to be very critical to making sure people are…informed and informed well enough that they give knowledgeable consent,” said Burden. “The way we like to describe consent is: it’s not that 100 percent of the people want the same thing, but they all agree it’s the very best thing for their community.”
For more information about the study, visit www.gapclosurestudy. com/.