The proposed multi-use pathway on Sport Hill Road is on the agenda for tonight’s Board of Selectman meeting following a 4-2 vote by he Board of Finance to approve $80,000 for preliminary design, pending taxpayer approval.
Expenditures of $20,000 or more must be approved by voters at a Town Meeting and/or referendum. The total design cost is estimated to be about $160,000, but the preliminary design is probably half of that, according to First Selectman Dave Bindelglass.
“Just like the whole process, it’s an 80/20 match,” Bindelglass said. “The town’s real risk for the preliminary design is $16,000, roughly.”
Andrew Kachele, finance board chairman, studied alternatives, sought and obtained additional information and supports proceeding with the preliminary engineering design with conditions.
“I would support going forward and getting a reading from the town,” he said.
Kachele said he will vote against going forward if the engineering design calls for the pathway to be 10-feet wide, as presently proposed, and said it must be narrower. He also opposes extending it past the Easton Village Store to Silverman’s Farm.
“Everything up to this point has been very preliminary, and the numbers have bounced around,” Bindelglass said. “So we’re not going too far out on a limb. Because it’s $80,000, it still needs town approval, which is either a Town Meeting or a referendum, but it probably needs a referendum.”
The proposed pathway would provide off-road use for pedestrians, cyclists, strollers, wheelchairs, and other non-motorized recreational forms of transportation along Sport Hill Road between the Helen Keller Middle School campus and the Easton Village Store.
It would provide a safe thoroughfare for users and protection from the high-speed traffic on the roadway, and would be designated as accessible under the Americans with Disability Act.
The projected cost of the pathway was estimated at $1,247,000, but the actual cost could be more or less depending on the specifics of the engineering and design work. Estimates between $880,000 and $1.5 million were projected by various agencies who looked into it, but no engineering design to date has been done to determine a more reliable cost.
The Board of Finance at its March 2 meeting voted 3-3 on a motion to appropriate $249,400 for the town’s share of the pathway with the other 80% of the $1,247,000 project to be funded by an approved grant from the state’s Transportation Alternatives Program. The motion was defeated because a majority vote by the finance board is required for approval.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on March 4 to include the proposed pathway at the March 23 Special Town Meeting, which was adjourned to the March 30 referendum, as an advisory question.
The pathway received 708 votes in favor and 604 opposed as an advisory question at the referendum. The Board of Finance has the final say on town expenditures, but the town-wide vote afforded guidance about the will of the people.
Purpose of the Pathway
In August 2019, the town applied for a competitive grant through the Transportation Alternatives Program to for design and construction of the pathway. The application was ranked first among those applicants in the Bridgeport-Stamford Transportation Management Area, consisting of 17 towns from Stamford to Seymour.
Through the grant, federal transportation appropriations are set aside to fund 80% of the projected design and construction cost with the remaining 20% the responsibility of the town. The town would be responsible for the long-term maintenance of the pathway.
The area between the Easton Village Store and the Keller campus is a highly traveled after-school route for middle school students. However, the area is widely known to be unsafe for those not traveling in a vehicle.
Police Chief Rich Doyle and Keller Principal Susan Kaplan are among the town and school officials who support the pathway to improve the safety of students and other pedestrians.
A community conversation called a charette about the pathway took place in November 2019 and was well attended. The plan was for residents to vote on the path at a Town Meeting and referendum in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic shut down in-person gatherings, including government meetings, hearings and town wide votes.
The Concept Plan, Final Presentation, Focus Group Notes, and all the Survey Data collected are available on the Easton website.