By SHERIDAN CYR
A public hearing was held on Feb. 5 regarding the much-discussed Gap Closure Study.
The hearing was led by the Capitol Region Council of Governments in partnership with the town of Plainville and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, who have presented a preferred alignment for the trail route in Plainville that would close the gap in the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. When complete, the trail will span from New Haven up to Northampton, Mass., and also connect to the East Coast Greenway, a multi-use trail that will span from Florida to Maine.
Residents from all over the state including the towns of Plainville, Cheshire, Southington, Farmington, and even as far as Florence, Mass. came out to speak to the public hearing.
“The Town Council has been looking at this for a very long time,” said chair Kathy Pugliese. “To those folks who have taken the time to express their opinions, we thank them very much for their opinions and their concern.”
Tim Malone, the project planner at CRCOG, shared a presentation prior to the hearing, which addressed some of the commonly heard themes and offered solutions to those concerns. Some of those themes include cost and funding, the planning process, trail maintenance, safety and security, impact on property values, privacy, environmental concerns, and engineering challenges and costs.
As far as cost and funding goes, Pugliese stated several times if funding was not available for the project, it would not go forward at that time. Malone’s presentation reported the project is a DOT priority, and that federal planning funds could be accessed.
Some concern was brought up that the planning process was not sufficient. Malone countered this, stating that the 18 month process included a steering committee, seven public informational meetings, newsletters and social media in English, Spanish and Polish, and several Town Council briefings.
He also said there will be no change to liability and that the town is aware of the maintenance issue and is actively planning for it. According to studies in other towns with completed trails, they are not experiencing increased crime. Malone even said that traffic safety can be improved when a trail goes through it.
Malone’s presentation said property values are seen to actually increase, not decrease. Additionally the trail will have buffers including landscaping and fencing to counter the concerns of privacy. It also stated that they will have consultations with environmental agencies and review impacts to wildlife during the design phase and that minimal impacts to wildlife are expected during and after construction.
Malone’s presentation was thorough and respectfully thought out, but many residents repeated those concerns during the public hearing. However, a number of residents brought up concerns that were not covered in the presentation.
Two anti-trail themes were brought up a number of times. They concerned Broad Street and personal property.
The preferred alignment would travel down Broad Street, either northbound, southbound or directly down the middle. Many residents who live on that road stated traffic on Broad Street is often out of control, and that trail users could easily be injured by a reckless driver. Additionally, if the trail went down through the center of the road, residents on Broad Street would be forced to take a right turn out of their driveway and therefore be inconvenienced.
Personal property was a big concern for residents. As Plainville still has an active portion of the railroad, the idea of “rails to trails” of course can’t be accomplished. The preferred alignment is suggested to go through some residential areas. A number of residents expressed concern their privacy would be jeopardized.
One pro-trail argument that was brought up a few times was that the trail would boost economic development as trail users would stop and enjoy Plainville amenities. A number of speakers shared experiences of using the trail and stopping off for a bite to eat or to check out a store they otherwise would not be introduced to. However, one resident asked for someone to point to any one spot on the preferred alignment that was near a business area like the ones mentioned in the pro-trail arguments. He said it couldn’t be done because there was no such spot.
The public hearing went on for hours. It was clear there was both excitement, opposition, and many in-between responses to the preferred alignment. Looking ahead, the CRCOG will need to review response from the public hearing and prepare a revised final report draft. The draft would then be sent to the Town Council for consideration. If adopted, the report is forwarded to the CRCOG for adoption. Then, the town, CRCOG, and the CDOT would consider initiating a design project.
As it stands, the project is in the planning phase. Beyond that is the design phase, construction of the trail, and finally, the trail opening.
Comments? Email scyr@southingtonObserver.com.
PHOTOS by JANELLE MORELLI
Scenes along the proposed trail.