Manchester rail trail study complete; heads to board

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MANCHESTER — Dozens of residents attended the final public meeting Tuesday devoted to a prospective 1.6-mile rail trail before a scoping study related to the project is finalized and presented to the Select Board next month for possible further action.

Daniel Peck, a project manager with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin engineering, the consultancy handling the project, provided an overview of the multi-use path's route, composition and other elements likely to be detailed in the study, which is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

As envisioned, a 10-foot-wide path — broad enough to accommodate emergency vehicles — with an aggregate trail surface would stretch from Riley Rink at Hunter Park to North Road, crossing two streams via steel girder bridges that would need to be built. Greenery, boulders or fencing may border the path in certain segments for screening or safety purposes. The route, along the former Manchester Dorset & Grainville railroad corridor, already exists as what Peck characterized as an "informal path," but it is essentially limited to skilled cyclists and pedestrians, and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At least two road crossings — at Beattie Lane and Mt. Aeolus Lane — will require the installation of signage to alert path users and motorists of potential conflicts, Peck said. Path users would be required to stop before crossing Mount Aeolus Lane.

Once the scoping study is finalized, the town may use the document to pursue federal grants to cover as much as 80 percent of the cost of the path's construction, according to Town Manager John O'Keefe, who said the remainder likely would be covered by a mix of tax and fundraising dollars.

Peck said the path's construction, which O'Keefe said might proceed in phases, would cost about

$1.2 million to $1.3 million.

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If the town acquires the right-of-way from the private entity that owns it and builds the path, the municipality likely would handle maintenance, O'Keefe said. Though the creation of a "friends of" organization has been discussed, he said, it is unlikely such a group would have the capacity to carry out a task like

roadside mowing.

Meeting attendees supportive of the path said that it would help memorialize the town's industrial heritage, promote tourism and appeal to a broad range of users.

"I know it seems like you don't want it in your backyard, but it's actually a huge asset," said one attendee, Susan Lynch, addressing adjacent property owners who have opposed or expressed reservations about the concept. The path would help to link Dorset to Manchester, possibly even "getting cars off Route 30," she said.

O'Keefe said in email on Wednesday that he did not yet know when exactly in November the project would be discussed by the Select Board.

A digital copy of the presentation shown by Peck at Tuesday's meeting is available on the town website, https://manchester-vt.gov.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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