Council whittles down rail trail design optionsCouncilors eliminate 'goat path,' paving options
Belfast — Plans for a recreational trail along the city-owned rail corridor continue to move forward at the City Council's Jan. 15 meeting, as councilors eliminated the paved option and an access path; however, questions still remain as to how the city will accommodate requests by City Point Central Railroad Museum and Brooks Preservation Society to make nearly 1,000 feet of rail accessible for storage and switching of cars.
The proposed recreational trail follows the Passagassawakeag River from the Penobscot McCrum property to Kaler Road, and would most likely replace the existing rail in that section.
Belfast purchased a portion of the former Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad corridor in 2010 for $200,000 with the intent of converting it to recreational use.
Initial plans for the corridor envisioned a trail next to the rail, but a study conducted by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. –– the engineering firm hired by the city to assess the feasibility of installing a trail — determined the rail-with-trail option would cost more than $5 million.
During a Council work session Tuesday, Jan. 8, Greg Bakos of Vanasse presented several possible design options for a trail in place of the rail. Bakos noted that salvaging the existing steel rail could pay for construction of a granular trail.
However, there are several other elements of the trail project to be addressed that will vary in cost depending on what councilors choose to pursue. Councilors voted unanimously to eliminate one of the options, which was to construct a path that stretches from River Avenue to the trail near the Penobscot McCrum Property.
Bakos explained that the path, which was quickly labeled a “goat path” by councilors, would be fairly long and have two switchbacks because of the steepness of the slope and the need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. To construct the path, he estimated, would cost the city about $400,000.
Councilors also opted not to pursue any paving options for the trail because of the cost, which was estimated at about $400,000. Bakos noted that some towns choose not to pave their trails initially, but the option remains open to do so in the future.
While the “goat path” and paving for the project were eliminated, Bakos said the Council still must address the trestle bridge that crosses the Passagassawakeag River. The bridge is structurally sound, but numerous timbers and the deck planking must be replaced, and safety railings have to be installed, Bakos said.
He estimated the needed rehabilitation on the bridge would cost about $100,000.
During the workshop discussion about the trail, councilors asked Bakos to provide an estimate for installing safety railings along portions of the trail and to replace any culverts.
Bakos said if the city “goes by the book,” about 8,000 feet of railing would have to be installed. However, Bakos said he felt 5,000 feet of railing would probably be sufficient.
Cost estimates for the railing range from $60,000 to $100,000, depending on how much the city installs and what type of railing is chosen, Bakos said.
Culvert replacement could cost as much as $20,000, but Bakos noted that the Public Works Department could do replacements for much less.
In the trail feasibility study, Bakos estimated total construction costs for the project could range from $600,000 to $1 million.
City Point Central Railroad/Brooks Preservation Society
As the city looks at potential design options for the rail trail, a decision must be made regarding access to a requested 990 feet of rail south of where the rail curves into the museum’s yard.
The two organizations requested access to the 990 feet of rail for storage and switching of cars. Mack Page, operator of the museum, suggested the city could save money by diverting the trail up an access road through the cemetery property and then continue the trail along City Point Road before connecting to Kaler Road.
That option would leave the requested 990 feet of rail intact and potentially save the city money, Page said.
Diverting the trail along the cemetery access road is one of six design options presented to councilors by Bakos during their previous work session. Other options include running the trail straight through to Kaler Road with all but 160 feet of the rail being removed. Bakos also presented an option for building the trail next to the rail in order to accommodate the request by the museum and the Brooks Preservation Society.
Depending on what options the Council pursues, costs could range from $4,000 to more than $100,000.
“I have a 25-year plan and it is coming together nicely, but if you tear up 990 feet of rail it will hinder us very badly,” Page told councilors during their Tuesday, Jan. 15, meeting.
No decisions were made at the meeting regarding potential trail design options for the section of rail near City Point Central Railroad Museum, but councilors agreed to discuss the issue further.
Residents were given the opportunity to comment on the rail trail, with the majority of those who spoke favoring the project.
Skip Pendleton said he supported the rail trail because he felt it was another positive asset for the city. Pendleton said the trail would offer opportunities for people to go bird watching, as well as cross-country skiing in the winter.
Glenn Montgomery, who serves on the Pedestrian, Biking and Hiking Committee, said he supported the trail because it would provide an exercise opportunity for residents along a scenic path. However, he did express an interest in seeing the city accommodate the museum’s and Brooks Preservation Society’s request to leave some rail intact.
While comments were generally positive regarding the trail proposal, Ashley Messner, a resident of Belfast, raised some concerns regarding trash removal and bathroom access.
Messner questioned whether people who use the trail would be responsible for disposing of their own garbage, or if the city would need to provide trash cans along the trail. She also questioned whether the city would provide a portable toilet on the trail, noting that she didn’t think private property owners who abut the trail would appreciate having people using their land as a bathroom.
Another concern for Messner was the lack of a clear starting and ending point for the trail. Messner said most trails have a Point A and Point B, but the trail as proposed is “just kind of starting and stopping.”
Because of the questions she still has about the trail — although she said she is not against the project –– she asked councilors to slow down and consider the big picture before committing to any action.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, councilors weighed in with their own thoughts about the trail. Councilors Roger Lee and Mike Hurley noted that there are still issues to be resolved, such as City Point Central Railroad Museum, and access to the trail from the Penobscot McCrum property.
Councilors also must consider a vote to pursue rail banking, which would allow the city to preserve the rail corridor indefinitely. Belfast Attorney Kristin Collins told councilors the city could complete the rail banking process within four to five months.
If in the future the city has an opportunity to reinstate rail service on the corridor it can do so. Collins noted that even if the city removes the existing rail, it would not be responsible for the cost of reinstalling it.
Assistant City Planner Jamie Francomano told councilors the final report regarding a potential rail trail would be made available in March, and he noted that, to date, no money has been allocated to the project.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.