Here's a bold new idea for routing the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail through downtown New Haven. If you look closely at the photo above, you'll see a space between the tracks and the open area sloping down from the abutment along State St.. That's a service drive that Friends of the New Haven Farmington Canal Greenway are proposing to the City. But the City is nearing completion of engineering work on a completely different route that must be built or risk losing existing (and hard to come by) funding. Read more about it here.
This is one of those situations that could be "lose/lose". If the City stops completion of engineering documents so that construction bidding and contracting cannot begin by 31 AUG 2013, they lose the $7.6 Million in funding earmarked for completion of the trail from Hillhouse Ave./Temple St. to Long Wharf. As the article states, the route proposed by FNHFCG is fraught with uncertainty: will the USPS agree to grant an easement to the City for the trail between Post Office and Union Station? Will Amtrak allow bike and pedestrian traffic alongside the right-of-way? Both entities (USPS and Amtrak) have been characterized as unfriendly to such uses, but in Amtrak's case, they have precious little justification for doing so. Currently, over 200 trails around the nation (some of them Amtrak routes) exist along with active rail lines. Some traffic on those lines is slow and infrequent, but some is high speed and quite frequent. Amtrak must be made to bend to strong political will for this to happen, with lots of badgering from our Congressional delegation. The same for the USPS. But, this all takes time, and presupposes that the State has in place effective legislation to protect the railroad, in particular, from liability for allowing recreational use alongside the right-of-way. Currently, the State's Recreational Use Statute does not specifically include railroads in this protection (it is simply implied). This could all eventually happen, but it will take time, money, and political will to do so. In my opinion, we should build the trail as currently designed, with all of its flaws. It can added to and revised to follow this route once all that needs to happen has happened.