ELLSWORTH — The effort to connect the Ellsworth Pedestrian/Bike Trail to the Downeast Sunrise Trail continues to inch forward with findings of a feasibility study, presented at a Dec. 10 virtual public hearing. Representatives from the South Portland office of VHB, a planning, transportation, land development, energy and environmental services firm, outlined their findings, along with Maine Department of Transportation representatives and Ellsworth Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich.
The 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 eventually connect with the Sunrise Trail at the intersection of Beals Avenue and High Street. Like the existing Ellsworth Ped/Bike Path, the new stretch of trail would be closed to ATVs and other motorized recreational vehicles.
“I think we’re getting close to the next step,” said MDOT Transportation Specialist Nate Howard. Discussions with the council and city staff started about two years ago, with a first public hearing held in August.
Possible funding through an MDOT-administered federal grant program for the estimated $825,000 to $1.1 million project, plus an additional $365,000 for a safe High Street crossing at Merrill Lane, would be awarded over two years, as the program only awards $500,000 per project per year. The grant requires a 20 percent city match, and the estimate, in 2020 dollars, does not include right-of-way issues, permitting, mitigation or railroad crossing costs. The city and MDOT equally shared the $25,000 cost of the feasibility study.
The Dec. 10 presentation outlined VHB and MDOT’s recommendations, broken down into sections. For Birch Avenue to Park Street, they recommend constructing a new, shared-use path on the east side of the railroad tracks. The city would be required to plow the path during the winter months under the grant program terms, something that is not currently done on the existing Ellsworth trail.
Pedestrians and cyclists would cross the tracks at Park Street and continue along Spring Street to the Church Street intersection, with Spring Street closed to vehicle traffic. From Church Street to Main Street, approximately 200 feet of Spring Street would be closed to vehicles. At that point, Spring Street would open for one-way traffic, with about 150 feet realigned to increase its distance from the railroad tracks. Signage and striping would be added for additional safety. Then, the trail would cross Main Street immediately west of the tracks at its Spring Street intersection on a newly constructed crossing.
To get from Main Street to the Sunrise Trail where Beals Avenue connects with High Street, two alternatives were tapped for preliminary design “to assess viability and determine a recommended option,” according to the study. The first would require minimal improvement, with pedestrians and cyclists sharing Beals Avenue with vehicles, at an estimated $415,000 cost. The second, more expensive alternative, would entail a new pedestrian/cyclist path starting at Main Street and continuing along the east side of the railroad tracks to Beals Avenue. That option price tag is estimated at $660,000.
The grant application is due in August 2021, leaving the city time to decide on a Main Street to Sunrise Trail option during the preliminary design phase.
“The city would be fully involved in deciding which of the two ways it goes,” Sekulich said.
Grant funding is available for the preliminary design phase, said Anthony Grande, VHB’s director of transportation engineering. However, if the City Council decides to move forward with the project, it will need to pass a resolution on funding its 20 percent share for MDOT to consider the grant application complete.