Rail-trail options presented at meeting
MANCHESTER — A meeting offering a chance to hear about alternatives for the proposed 1.6-mile rail-trail running from near Riley Rink at Hunter Park to North Road was held Tuesday, but at times it seemed like all that many in the audience wanted to do was argue against building it at all.
The town has contracted with design consultant VHB to study the issue and propose options for building the trail if Manchester voters decide they want to authorize the town to spend the money and follow through with the build.
But, the first step is to come up with a proposal and find out how much it would cost, which is what VHB has been working to do.
Tuesday, Project Manager Dan Peck, and Project Engineer Erica Quallen, presented a variety of plans to those in attendance including a couple of options for the surface of the proposed path, a variety of bridge options to cross three streams and other options.
The biggest options are for the type of surface and types of bridges.
After hearing the pros and cons for a paved surface versus a more natural surface of crushed stone or aggregate, the majority of those who expressed an opinion wanted to see the more natural surface of crushed stone.
The price for the two is close — with the paved surface coming in at an estimated $1.3 million covering the design, mobilization and construction of the proposed 10-foot wide path.
The aggregate path option came in at about $1 million. The cost similarities are because much of the cost is in the site prep work to clear and level the path and mobilization of getting the path ready for the surface with the actual cost of the surface being a smaller portion of the overall cost, Quallen told the audience.
Those prices do not include the cost of the bridges, the largest cost of which is for two larger stream crossings.
Three streams need to be spanned including one intermittent stream, which would run seasonally or during storms. The other two are perennial streams, meaning there is almost always water in them and would require a 60-foot span. All of the bridges formerly crossing the streams have deteriorated until they're almost nonexistent.
The smaller bridge cost is estimated to only be about $2,500.
Bridge options presented for the two larger structures, and their costs and features included a variety of options.
A girder bridge, with an estimated cost of $210,000 and a service life of about 50 to 75 years for the two larger bridges.
A concrete arch bridge would cost about $330,000 and last about 75 to 100 years.
A pipe arch bridge would cost about $150,000 and have a life of 75-100 years.
A timber bridge would cost about $290,000 and have a life expectancy of about 50 years.
And a steel truss bridge would cost about $290 and should last 50 to 75 years.
An unofficial show of hands showed that the more popular option for the surface was, by far, the natural surface with about half the room raising its hands in support versus only one or two supporters of a paved surface.
But, a third option, which was studied, was to do nothing and not build the trail at all, which appeared to have the support of about half the room as well.
That opposition was mumbled and whispered throughout the presentation and, despite a request that all questions be saved for the end, questions disrupted the meeting for about 20 minutes during the presentation before the organizers could get it back on track.
Other options presented for the trail included ideas like, thinning trees to widen the path, the option of adding benches and information kiosks, fencing to keep people from straying onto private property and privacy fencing in some areas to protect the privacy of some neighbors along the route that are troubled by the close proximity of people walking and riding their bikes next to, or in some cases, across private property.
The mere mention of the privacy fence at one point drew noisy and dismissive comments from some in the audience who were clearly not buying the notion of privacy as the trail passed by their homes.
Tim Bryant said he grew up on a farm the path crosses and now farms it for the current owners, something he's done for 70 years.
He said he wasn't in support of the trail but wasn't strongly opposed or in support of the plan.
What he did have a problem with, he said, was that he didn't feel everybody was being included in the discussion.
"I have to wonder, is it really a good investment for the money for the community?" Bryant asked. "That land has been in m family since the 1940s and I have concerns about trespass. The people with adjoining land haven't really been considered the way I'd like them to be considered."
Other concerns expressed included safety of where the path connected with North Road, who would be able to use the path, and how it would be paid for.
Town Manager John O'Keefe said the questions about who can use the path, who would enforce the rules, how emergency personnel would access the path and others would be decided by the select board.
As for the costs, O'Keefe said it's his belief that the only way the path will get built is if the town gets a federal grant.
"I don't see it going forward unless we get federal funding," O'Keefe said.
The process going forward is to select a preferred option in September with a draft scoping report due out in early October. A final scoping report would be due by Oct. 31, and Peck, the project manager said there would be another public hearing between the draft and final reports to give people another chance to offer comments on the trail.
Kathe Dillmann, one of the advocates for the path said she thinks most town residents have already made up their mind.
She said that as she worked a tent supporting the path at two street fests in downtown Manchester this summer the support was overwhelming.
"The enthusiasm was tremendous," Dillmann said. "They couldn't wait to get on this trail."
She also encouraged town residents to consider the future and not look at this as only a 1.6-mile trail section but part of building Manchester's future.
"Take a longer view on this," Dillmann said. "We are so far behind most of our competitors. This would be a tremendous asset over the longterm. This rec park people are saying it's costing us money. It's bringing money into this town. It's a lively, active place. We need to look to the future and see what we're offering to our residents and our visitors."
Contact Darren Marcy at email@example.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.
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