By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Residents received positive news Monday night about a bike path project that’s been in the works since the 1980s. Although the design plans and a lease deal need to be finalized, the four-mile path is set to be operational by the spring of 2015.
The project, Rails for Trails, would convert old, unused train tracks into a pedestrian and biking path from the City of Buffalo to the Town of Tonawanda and City of Tonawanda.
“The project is needed to provide a safe, off-road facility for pedestrians and bicyclists through the town and city,” a brochure from the meeting states. “The easily accessible, shared-use trail will provide low-cost opportunities for users to increase their level of physical activity.”
The project plans detail a 12-foot wide path on the abandoned rail bed starting at Kenmore Avenue, 900 feet west of Englewood Avenue. The trail will then extend northwest to Sheridan Drive.
The second trail segment will then begin approximately 900 feet west at the Belmont Avenue and Sheridan Drive intersection, and continue north along Belmont Avenue. The trail will then meet the rail bed again at Colvin Boulevard.
From Colvin, the trail proceeds north under I-290 and into the City of Tonawanda, where it may end at State Street — but the plans for the ending point are still in revision, according to City of Tonawanda Engineer Jason LaMonaco.
The original trail would take bikers over an Ellicott Creek bridge in Tonawanda. But if that plan was instated, the city would then be responsible for maintenance of the bridge.
“It’s also a remote location, and there may be some security issues,” LaMonaco said.
LaMonaco said Monday he has proposed another ending point to Erie County, which is sponsoring the project. Instead of ending at State Street, LaMonaco has suggested taking that path over to Ives Pond.
“There are tennis courts, a playground, soccer fields and the skate park there,” LaMonaco said.
LaMonaco and county officials are also looking at the possibility of connecting the path to the two trails along the river, but all options are still tentative.
The project will cost $2 million, and 80 percent of those funds will come from the federal government and 20 percent from Erie County. The design plan, which must be approved before the project moves forward, will likely be set in May.
Once the design is approved, the county can start negotiating for a lease deal with the owners of the property, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, according to Erie County Project Manager Brian Rose.
Then, bidding for the project will go out in the spring of 2014 and construction will start in the summer.
Rich Jurkowski, an avid cyclist from the Town of Tonawanda, said he’s excited about the plans.
“What is great about this project is that it can get you away from the cars,” Jurkowski, who attended Monday’s meeting said. “It’s a safety issue.”
Joyce Boone, of Buffalo, who has biked from Albany to Buffalo, also came to Monday’s meeting in the support of the plans.
“There are a lot of schools along the route, and for families, I think this trail can’t be beat,” she said.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150