Pete Hutchings talks about the trail he and family members built from near Cony Middle and High School to Farrington Elementary School. He was near the trailhead Tuesday after collecting trash along the Augusta trail. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Ten years in the making, a paved trail accessible to people with disabilities is about to be built between Cony High School and Farrington Elementary School.

The $273,000 project will include paving a 10-foot wide multi-use path, much of which will use existing dirt trails through woods between the two schools. There also will be improvements to pedestrian crossings on Cony Street Extension and Pierce Drive, and a new, roughly 870-foot-long sidewalk along the east side of Pierce Drive, which is the entrance to Cony and Capital Area Technical Center.

Officials said the project will connect the two campuses on trails already used as shortcuts by students, provide a route free of cars and trucks for kids to walk, bike or skate to and from school, and provide better access to a scenic wooded recreational area for everyone, including people with disabilities.

The project was one of many across the state approved in 2012 or earlier, as a Safe Routes to School project, primarily federally-funded. The federal Transportation Act restructured later that year, however, and the program was defunded and eliminated. That left numerous approved projects without their federal funding source.

Patrick Adams, Maine Department of Transportation’s active transportation planner, said when he started working for the state in 2014 there were still nearly 50 projects that had been approved in 2012 but were never funded. He said state transportation officials still felt the projects were important and have been finding funding for them over the years.

When the state was ready to fund Augusta’s project a few years ago, however, the city had so many construction activities taking place they had to put it off.

A crosswalk leads to a trailhead from near Cony Middle and High School to Farrington Elementary School in Augusta Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Now, some 10 years after it was first approved, the city has awarded the project to low bidder Wayne-based C.H. Stevenson at $273,000. The start date hasn’t been set yet, but city engineer Tyler Pease said the completion date is set for Aug. 27.

“Ultimately I think when the city was ready, we didn’t have the money, and then when we had the money, the city wasn’t ready,” Adams said. “So we’re very excited to see this come to fruition.”

Pease said about 90% of the project will be paid for with federal funds, with the city responsible for 10%.

Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones credited Pease with getting the project ready to move forward this summer.

Kim Moody, executive director of advocacy group Disability Rights Maine, said people with disabilities are often unable to use recreational amenities, so making the trail accessible to all is a worthwhile project.

“People with disabilities are often unable to access recreation, period,” she said. “So every single time a park or a beach, or a trail is made accessible, it is terribly exciting and wonderful.

“Exercise and fresh air are fundamental to our good health,” Moody added. “Plus, we love to be included in our communities in all of the same ways that everyone does.”

The trail will run through about 1,500 feet of woods from an existing crosswalk on Cony Street Extension, near Pete-N-Repetes Way, to alongside Farrington Elementary School. It will connect to an existing trail that crosses Eastern Avenue, also known as Route 17, at a crosswalk which leads to a highly populated residential neighborhood including the Mayfair area.

Pete Hutchings, who lives across Cony Street Extension from that end of the trail, said he and other family members created one of the existing informal trails that will be used for part of the new paved trail. He said he used to watch his now-adult granddaughter, Jade, make her way down the trail through the woods on her way to school at Farrington. He removed dead trees — with the city’s permission — from the area.

Pete Hutchings talks about the trail he and family members built from near Cony Middle and High School to Farrington Elementary School. He was near the trailhead Tuesday after collecting trash along the Augusta trail. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Hutchings was the only person found walking on the trails on a recent weekday, where he was picking up trash he planned to take home and dispose of. He said he and other family members kept the trail clean over the years, something he still does.

The trail is in a pretty safe spot, Hutchings said, with better sightlines on Cony Street Extension than another informal trail closer to Pierce Drive, so motorists should be able to see people crossing the street there in the existing crosswalk.

“I think it’s a smart idea,” he said of the plans to pave the trail through the woods.

Cony Principal Kim Silsby said many students use the existing path through the woods to get to and from school now. She said her own children, who attended Farrington and Cony, biked to school every day they could when they went to Farrington and lived in the Mayfair area, and her son occasionally walked the trail to Cony. She said if it was paved, he likely would have used the trail to get to school more often.

“It’s a great idea to pave the trail between Farrington and Cony,” Silsby said. “The majority of our students come by bus, their own car, or by parent drop-off.

“That being said, we have walkers, bikers and skateboarders as well. I definitely think more students will use the trail when it is paved,” she added. “It will also make the trail more accessible to all of our students including those with physical disabilities.”

Adams said making the trail accessible to people with disabilities requires improving the surface, in this case by paving it, and making sure slopes and elevation changes don’t exceed accessibility standards. That includes a requirement the trail not go up more than 1 foot over 12 feet of distance.

Farrington Principal Teresa Beaudoin said she sees Cony students walking the existing trails, but there are currently only a few of her students who walk or ride a bike to school. However the school does use the trails, she said, including a teacher who recently took students hiking there for physical education.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the woods the trail passes through are beautiful and he and his wife frequently walk the existing trails there. Mayor David Rollins said the project was approved so long ago he’d forgotten all about it, but said it should be a nice, convenient trail.

Other Safe Routes to School-funded projects in the city have included improvements in 2008 to to crosswalks and sidewalks on Northern Avenue leading to Gilbert Elementary School, and sidewalk improvements including the painting of footprints on sidewalks in the Mayfair area, and a crosswalk with a flashing light that crosses Route 17 leading to Farrington.

While the federal Safe Routes to School funding is no more, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, in a partnership with the state transportation department, continues to provide Safe Routes to School educational programming.

A gate will be installed at the end of the path on Cony Street to discourage use by unauthorized vehicles, while providing access for maintenance, rescue and fire vehicles.

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