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Fix trail, prevent floods

Sunday, February 16, 2014
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It’s always nice to be able to kill two birds with one stone, especially where money is involved. That’s what would happen if county officials use $3 million in flood reconstruction money from the state to build a tunnel under the Pan Am Railway tracks now blocking the Mohawk Hudson Bike Hike Trail. And, fortunately, that’s what they are inclined to do.

The tunnel would help alleviate the periodic flooding that has bedeviled Rotterdam Junction in recent years — disastrously in 2011 after Hurricane Irene — while filling one of the few remaining gaps in the 363-mile Canalway trail.

This trail is already popular with bicyclists, and could be much more so if they didn’t, because of the obstruction at the tracks, have to detour at Scrafford Lane for half a mile and use busy Route 5S.

Cyclists, particularly the touring kind, have a lot of disposable income and need places to eat and sleep. A continuous, safe path between Schenectady and Montgomery counties could be an economic boon to Rotterdam Junction and the cities of Schenectady and Amsterdam. Economic development is the main reason Gov. Cuomo gave last month when he announced that the state would direct $67 million in federal funding to 63 bike, pedestrian and multiuse trail projects, including $980,000 to close the gap between Amsterdam and Pattersonville.

It’s unclear exactly how much the tunnel will cost, how far that $3 million would go. Money could be saved if the railroad works with the county, and it has expressed a willingness to do so, according to Rotterdam senior planner Peter Comenzo. Even better, an additional $3 million to $6 million may be available from another, competitive round of New York Rising Community Reconstruction grants the state just announced, which will favor regional collaborations involving multiple entities and serving multiple purposes.

In this case, the entities include Rotterdam, Schenectady County, Montgomery County and the railroad. The purposes are trail connection and flood prevention, as the tunnel would serve as a culvert draining water that overflows the old Erie Canal basin during severe storms.

Two important, needed projects, two birds with one stone.

 
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