Rail trail getting back on track with cheaper option
Belfast — After preliminary estimates for constructing a trail along the city-owned rail corridor proved to be too costly, the city is now considering a less expensive option, which would involve removing the existing rail.
During a City Council work session Tuesday, Jan. 8, councilors listened to a presentation from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. — the engineering firm hired to assess potential options for constructing a trail.
Preliminary estimates presented to councilors in June 2012 for constructing a trail alongside the existing rail would cost the city about $5.5 million, which councilors rejected. The less expensive option –– building a trail in place of the existing rail –– was estimated to cost about $1.3 million.
The city hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin using a $40,000 grant awarded by the Maine Coastal Program.
Greg Bakos of the engineering firm explained to councilors during the work session that the city could install a stone dust path as the cheapest option, with the cost of the work covered by the value of the salvaged rail.
However, Bakos noted that the stone dust path is less accommodating for specific users –- such as road bikes and strollers –– than a paved path would be. He did note that stone dust is preferred for joggers because it’s a softer surface.
The feasibility study estimates construction of the trail would cost between $600,000 and $1 million, depending on the options the city pursues.
Bakos said the existing railroad bridge that crosses the Passagassawaukeag River is structurally sound for a trail, but decking timbers would have to be replaced and additional decking and guardrails would have to be constructed.
According to the feasibility study, “approximately 15 percent of the existing bridge deck timbers are in very poor condition due to rot and splitting and cannot be reused. Most of the timber tie spacers are also in poor condition due to rot and splitting.”
In terms of guardrails, the study suggests constructing timber railings also on both sides of the bridge. City Manager Joseph Slocum questioned whether it would be possible to install a chain link barrier and paint it black or dark green in order to minimize the visual impact, which Bakos said is possible.
Overall, he estimated the cost of renovating the bridge would be about $100,000.
River Avenue access
At the southernmost portion of the trail — the portion closest to the Penobscot McCrum property –– Bakos explained the extent of the work required to give access to the trail from River Avenue. In order to build a path down to the trail, the city would have to spend about $400,000, because of the difference in elevation between River Avenue and the railroad corridor.
“The length of the connection has to be pretty long in order not to be too steep,” Bakos said.
Councilor Mike Hurley noted that the city would have to work out an agreement to cross McCrum’s property in order to access the trail. He questioned whether a small, posted path could be installed if a deal were reached with McCrum, which Bakos said is possible, but only if the city doesn’t use federal funds to construct the trail.
“If you use any federal funds you’ll probably have to do the full-blown connection,” Bakos said.
City Point Central Railroad Museum/Brooks Preservation Society
As councilors consider the final design of the trail, they have to consider several options for connecting the trail to Kaler Road, while still trying to accommodate railroad use.
Brooks Preservation Society Executive Director Joe Feero said he would like to see 990 feet of the rail south of where it curves into the City Point Central Railroad Museum railyard left intact in order to provide a place for storage and switching rail cars.
Bakos presented six possible options for how the city can connect the rail trail to Kaler Road. The first option is to remove the existing track up to the point where it enters the rail yard; the trail would then veer around the track in the yard for about 160 feet before connecting to Kaler Road. That option would cost about $4,000, Bakos estimated.
The second option is identical to the first one, with the exception that a third yard track would be constructed on the museum property to accommodate the need for storage and room to switch cars. That option would cost about $80,000, owing to the loss of salvageable track and the need to construct additional material.
In order to accommodate the wish for 900-plus feet of rail access, the city could construct a trail alongside the east side of the rail. However, that option would require that the city acquire an easement from a private property owner.
Bakos said that option would cost about $100,000 –– primarily because of the need for “significant” fill volume.
Bakos said the city could also leave about 200 to 300 feet of rail before shifting the trail onto the east side of the rail. By pursuing that option, Bakos said, the city would save money because less fill would be required. He estimated it would cost about $40,000 using the hybrid rail-to-trail option.
The city could also completely bypass the 900 feet of requested track by diverting the trail along the city cemetery parcel, and travel in front of City Point Museum before crossing the rail corridor to connect to Kaler Road.
That option would cost about $120,000 because of the additional length added to the trail, and for clearing and cut and fill volume.
Bakos noted that a potential benefit of having the trail cross in front of the museum is that it could result in additional attention to the facility.
The final option presented to councilors was to have a pure rail-with-trail setup in order to accommodate the railroad's desires. Bakos estimated the cost would be about $100,000 because of the difficulty of constructing a path 10 feet from the existing rail along the steep embankments.
Hurley raised a question about parking for people who wish to access the trail, saying the city should address the issue now before it becomes a problem. Assistant City Planner Jamie Francomano said there is the possibility of creating on-street parking along Oak Hill Road and Kaler Road. He noted that the city is working with City Point Central Railroad Museum and the Brooks Preservation Society on addressing the need for parking.
Councilor Nancy Hamilton raised concerns about having on-street parking because of the speed at which vehicles travel along Oak Hill Road.
“Turning from Oak Hill onto Kaler or vice versa, people come down Oak Hill at quite a clip,” Hamilton said.
As the rail trail presentation concluded, Bakos was asked to provide additional cost figures for installing guardrails along portions of the trail, as well as the cost for replacing any culverts.
Before councilors commit to any plan, a public hearing is scheduled to be held Tuesday, Jan. 15, at City Hall to give residents a chance to address the project. Residents will have the opportunity to speak to the feasibility study, as well as the possibility of the city rail banking some or all of the rail corridor.
A copy of the rail trail feasibility study can be found at cityofbelfast.org.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.