Council weighs in on proposed Ped/Bike Path extension



ELLSWORTH — Three seasons of walking may trump four seasons for the proposed Ellsworth Ped/Bike Path extension, after councilors heard details of a draft feasibility study on Feb. 25 and questioned costs and liability in maintaining the extension path during winter snow and ice if the project moves forward.

As proposed, the 0.75-mile connector trail would begin at the intersection of Birch Avenue and Spring Street, where the Ellsworth trail now ends, continue down Spring Street and cross Main Street to connect with the Sunrise Trail at the intersection of Beals Avenue and High Street.

With a maintenance agreement and year-round use required under the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) program that could fund most construction costs, council Chairman Dale Hamilton wondered whether year-round use, in MDOT’s eyes, could mean snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, alleviating the need for winter maintenance by the city. The maintenance agreement needs review to see “to what extent can [the city] meet those requirements,” he said.

Councilor Marc Blanchette, a strong proponent of the path, said he “would be very, very surprised to be expected to plow a path that I believe would open us up to a lot of liability,” while Councilor Michelle Kaplan asked for a cost estimate of maintaining the trail in winter.

Whether plowed or unplowed, if the project is approved, its start would be about four years away, based on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program grant model. Applicants apply in August, grant awards are announced the following January and the projects are then added to MDOT’s three-year work plan. Public Works Director Lisa Sukelich said that based on the city successfully applying this year, the trail work would begin in 2025. But, with a $500,000 annual limit on the grant, only funding for the first phase of the project could be applied for in 2021. A second application to fund the second phase would then be submitted in August 2022. 

“We need to make some decisions and include this as part of the budget process, if we’re going to apply,” Hamilton said.

The trail construction is estimated to cost $1,070,000 to $1,720,000, depending on which alternatives are selected as outlined in the feasibility study, while a signal and pedestrian crosswalk on High Street comes in roughly at $365,000 and would require funding separate from the MDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. Sukelich noted there are MDOT grants that the signal and crosswalk project could apply for.

“We’ll continue to look at other funding sources,” City Planner Elena Piekut noted. 

Like the existing Ellsworth Ped/Bike Path, the new stretch of trail would be closed to ATVs and other motorized recreational vehicles. The Sunrise Trail does allow for the use of ATVs and other motorized recreational vehicles. As part of the project, a pedestrian crosswalk is proposed on High Street at Merrill Street to funnel pedestrians to the Ellsworth Shopping Center.

The authors of the study, VHB of South Portland, recommend a shared-use path east of the railroad tracks from Birch Avenue to Park Street, at a cost of about $135,000. The section from Park to Church Street would be closed to vehicular traffic and cost about $110,000. For Church Street to Main Street, VHB recommends closing a portion of Spring Street to traffic from Church Street heading south and converting it to a shared use ped/bike path. The remainder of Spring Street would become a dead end, while allowing vehicles into the Emerson property or Allen’s Blueberry. This plan also realigns Spring Street away from the railroad tracks, from the railroad crossing on Spring Street to Allen’s Blueberry. The estimated cost is $165,000. All estimates include surveying but not any rights-of-way, permitting or mitigation costs.

The feasibility study offers four alternatives for the second phase, extending the trail from Main Street to High Street. Among the options is routing pedestrians and bicyclists down Beals Avenue and turning the road into a dead end for vehicular traffic before it intersects with High Street. Another alternative is constructing a new shared use trail on the west side of the railroad tracks. 

“All [alternatives] have some challenges that have to be looked at in the next phase,” Sukelich said.

Councilor Gene Lyons wanted to know the “least expensive way to get to High Street.” That would be the first alternative, using Beals Avenue without road or sidewalk improvements but adding signage and striping for shared-use lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. This alternative is not recommended by VBH and MDOT, and no cost was provided. However, all alternatives are discussed in the draft feasibility study, which can be viewed at www.ellsworthmaine.gov/government/city-projects/2020-bicycle-pedestrian-trail-connectivity-feasibility-study/.

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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