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State Award Will Help Complete Saratoga Springs Downtown Connector Trail

Lucas Willard

The Saratoga Greenbelt Trail has been planned and discussed for years in Saratoga Springs.

The bike and pedestrian path network has been scrutinized by committees, non-profits, city officials and every day citizens.

It was good news for many Thursday, when Governor Andrew Cuomo annouced the Regional Economic Development Council awards, that a matching $1.13 million grant will help complete a highly sought-after stretch of trail.

The so-called Downtown Connector will bridge a bike and pedestrian connection at Route 50 near the Eastern loop of Excelsior Avenue 1.6 miles to the city’s downtown at the intersection of Maple and Lake Avenue.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen said the section is just one part of a planned 23-to-26-mile trail system.

“So we’re taking one section at a time and I felt the downtown section was really important. Not only is more construction going in there and residential use will be important on the trail, but we also have safety issues that we want to ensure bikers, walkers, people with wheelchairs, baby strollers, whatever, can get around downtown and feel safe,” said Yepsen.

The grant will be matched with about $830,000 in taxpayer dollars, $150,000 from recreation fees, and $151,000 in private donations.

While the connector was originally included in Yepsen’s 2017 budget recommendations, the project was removed from the 2017 Comprehensive Budget prepared by Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. It was decided the project would move to 2018 if the state funding did not come through.

Prior to that budget presentation in early October, Saratoga Springs resident Ken Gray, representing the city’s Complete Streets Advisory Board, pushed for the connector trail project.

“People come to our community because there are things to offer, and if we fail to start looking at this in the future we won’t be the same community, so I hope we look at this as an investment,” said Gray.

The award means the project is a go-ahead.

Two years ago, the city received $1.6 million in federal funding through the Transportation Alternatives Plan and administered by the state Department of Transportation to make improvements to a bike and pedestrian path along Geyser Road.

“So we’re looking at funding from every source imaginable to make sure that this 23-mile trail eventually all gets built. This is good for the economy. It’s also just really good for quality of life,” said Yepsen.

Last month the city granted a conservation easement to the Pitney Meadows Community Foundation to preserve the 166-acre Pitney Farm on the southwest side of the city.

The group says, upon closure of sale, it will work with the city and Saratoga Greenbelt Trail Committee to secure the railroad right of way that crosses the farm to make way for a trail.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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