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May 28. 2014 9:57PM

Keene closes in on connecting city pathways

KEENE — City councilors, who are up against a deadline to secure federal funds, have identified a trail that would connect the Cheshire Rail Trail, the Ashuelot Rail Trail and the Jonathan Daniels Rail Trail.

“We’ve been working on the trail system itself, the former rail bed, probably 16 years or so,” said City Manager John MacLean.

The Roundhouse T Phase II trail is the last piece of a project initially funded in 1997, said Kürt Blomquist, Keene Public Work Director.

The initial project that was designed to create a pedestrian and bike path using the old railway beds throughout the city had to be downsized because it was too expensive, Blomquist said.

Where all the old railway tracks converge is the missing piece of the city trail system, he said.

Because of development, though, this part of the old railway bed is no longer there so City Council members are in talks with the new owners of the Colony Mill Market Place to acquire a permanent easement along Gilbo Avenue and West Street on the Colony Mill property.

As a state Transportation Enhancement Project the trail project is receiving 80 percent of its funding through the federal highway administration.

The federal government requires the easement be permanent, Blomquist said.

The project is estimated to cost $772,000, so the federal portion would be about $617,000, he said.

In July, federal officials voted to consolidate certain federal accounts that fund these types of alternative transportation projects, Blomquist said.

Because the federal program is ending, the state identified 22 final projects last year from across the state that need funding, including Keene’s Roundhouse T Phase II trail.

Keene officials have an aggressive time frame to keep to secure the federal funds, Blomquist said, that is why the trail needs to be specified and the easement acquired.

The project has to be completely designed and ready to send out for bids by 2015, he said.

Blomquist said he anticipates federal funding for these types of projects would be made available through other programs in the future, though, competition for these alternative transportation projects would increase because of the decreased funding overall.

mpierce@newstote.com


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