By SHERIDAN ROY
Representatives from the Connecticut Department of Transportation provided an update on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail gap closure during the Aug. 19 town council meeting.
Last year, the council voted to support trail alignment ‘C’ after it was designed by the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) engineers and designers, and now, the design portion of the project has begun.
DOT staff member Scott Bushee led the presentation. He, along with Vitalij Staroverov and Ahmed Kadhim, are taking the lead on the design of the trail after having worked on the gap closure design in Cheshire a few years back.
Bushee explained the DOT worked to initiate a project to find funding to support the design of trail alignment ‘C.’ Funding became available in January 2019 for the design. Alignment ‘C’ is approximately five miles long.
“After it was funded, the design team started walking this alignment several times throughout January to April, getting familiar with it, assessing it,” said Bushee. “My recommendations are, moving forward, that we break this project up into three phases.”
Some sections are more challenging than others, Bushee said.
“They take more design time, and more environmental permitting time,” said Bushee. “I think it’s to everyone’s benefit that we take it in smaller pieces.”
“They will likely be in construction by next year, so the next logical phase for Plainville would be from the Southington town line to Norton Park,” Bushee said. “That keeps the continuity of the trail construction going.”
That portion of design would be phase one. It is mostly woodlands. Norton Park is also a logical place to stop, according to Bushee, as it would provide parking for access to the trail traveling south.
Phase two would start from the Farmington town line and end at a proposed 190’ box culvert under route 72. It travels down a scenic route, and similar to phase one, it does not have neighborhoods to cross. Bushee said there would be some environmental permitting to work through, though.
Phase three from route 72 to Norton Park would be the most difficult portion to design. It travels through neighborhoods in town, and there has been some community backlash to the proposed alignment for that reason.
“It will take a lot of time to review properties, layout, traffic and safe crossings,” said Bushee. “This phase will take the longest time of all three phases, I believe.”
Phase three, as proposed, would travel through the center of town, coming out by the fire department headquarters and traveling down Pierce Street then turning down Broad Street. From Broad Street, it would break off and head toward Norton Park. A potential alternative route outlined on the map would break off from Broad Street to travel down Pearl Street, to Willis Avenue, to Hemingway Street and meet at Norton Park.
Bushee said the DOT will go through several public informational sessions and take as much community input into consideration as possible with regards to the neighborhood areas. The trail alignment is not completely set in stone.
“We will look at suggestions, and look at what makes the most sense for pedestrian and bike safety, and what’s best for the community,” Bushee said. “We will work together as we move ahead on this.”
The anticipated construction schedule is tentative, and may change based on permitting and alignment tweaking. Currently the DOT anticipates construction on phase one in 2022, phase two in 2023 and phase three in 2024.
The DOT will provide updates to the town often, and notice of any upcoming public informational meetings will be announced, posted on the town’s website, and appear in local newspapers.
To learn more about the alignment, review studies, read newsletters and updates, see handouts from past meetings and review the history of the gap closure project, visit www.gapclosurestudy.com.