By David J. Hill, The Tonawanda News, link to original post
A long-dormant plan to convert former rail lines in the Tonawandas into paved trails for walking and biking has gained new life.
With the support of officials from both the town and City of Tonawanda, Erie County parks officials have stepped up their efforts in creating the Rails to Trails program, a six-mile multi-use pathway — similar to the Riverwalk in Niawanda Park — extending from the North Buffalo Greenway to the Town of Tonawanda and ending in the City of Tonawanda.
The 12-foot, paved pathway would have multiple access points, and would be available for seasonal use only during daylight hours.
Rails to Trails isn’t new, officials noted. “This project’s been around in concept since the early 1980s,” Brian Rose, of the Erie County DPW Division of Highways, told the city’s Common Council during a recent meeting. “The fundamental concept is to put a trail right on the old rail bed, which makes the most sense.”
Rose said the trail would connect to a number of potential destination points for people while offering them a healthy, off-road way of getting to those areas.
He said the Federal Highway Administration would cover 80 percent of the cost, with Erie County kicking in the remaining 20 percent. “There’s no up front cost to either the city or the town,” he said.
However, if and when the trail is built, the county would turn over maintenance of the trail to the city and the town, both of which would be responsible for periodic mowing and trash pickup.
Both city and town leaders have expressed support for the project, although some presumed the Rails to Trails plan had been nixed. “I thought it was dead, it’s been so long,” Common Council President Carl Zeisz said.
“That’s one of those projects that I was informed about, I think it was in 2006-2007, and we’re just now talking about it again, but you never know,” Mayor Ron Pilozzi said during a council meeting last month.
The Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council’s Transportation Improvement Program for 2011 to 2015 calls for the Rails to Trails project to begin in five years. Its estimated cost is a little more than $2 million.
“The project has languished,” Rose admitted. “We believe in the project. The nut we haven’t been able to crack is to get an agreement with the NFTA to use the old railbed.”
The county is hopeful that with Tonawanda officials’ support, the NFTA will turn the property over for the trail’s creation.
“It’s going to be a great project,” Town Supervisor Anthony Caruana said Wednesday. “It’ll give us more access for people to use the old railroad and put it to good use. It would be very exciting.”