2013-11-15 / Community

Eastern Trail expansion plan reviewed

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — A scenic route connecting the Piscataqua River and Casco Bay is one step closer to being completed.

Last week Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon and representatives from the Eastern Trail Alliance unveiled a preliminary plan to extend the Eastern Trail in Scarborough to the Wainwright Recreation Complex, the beginning of South Portland’s Greenbelt Walkway.

The Greenbelt Walkway is a 5.7-mile trail that runs from the Scarborough/South Portland town line to Portland Breakwater Lighthouse in Bug Light Park. The Eastern Trail starts near Route 103 in Kittery and ends at the Nonesuch River in Scarborough.

The proposed 1-mile trail would rely heavily on Central Maine Power corridors to extend toward Pleasant Hill Road, across the Pan-Am railroad line and past the pond behind Pond Cove drive before crossing into South Portland and ending at the Wainwright complex.

Bacon said extending the Eastern Trail into South Portland has been a longtime goal for town and Eastern Trail officials. Doing so has not been an easy task.

“It’s a complicated area to spread a trail through, but it is a high priority for the town and a very high priority for the region,” Bacon said.

Bob Bowker, vice president of the Eastern Trail Alliance, said the trail has come a long way since it was first envisioned 15 years ago as a place for people to walk, bike and run while enjoying nature. Since then the trail has been expanded, including a section between Biddeford and Kennebunk in 2010 and Saco and Old Orchard Beach in 2011.

“In 15 years there has been a lot accomplished with the Eastern Trail,” Bowker said. “Despite the fact we have over 20 miles of trails available, these projects left some gaps.”

Aside from the gap near the Scarborough/South Portland line, Bowker said the Eastern Trail Alliance is also looking to use the trail to connect Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford and Thornton Academy in Saco.

Bacon said a year and a half ago, Scarborough and the Eastern Trail Alliance received a grant from the Maine Department of Transportation to study and create a preliminary trail design.

Tim Cote, of HNTB, a national architecture, engineering and planning firm with a location in Westbrook, said the proposed trail would cost approximately $3 million to $3.5 million.

“This is, by far, the most challenging trail segment we have been engaged with,” Cote said.

The biggest challenges, he said, are designing bridges across the Nonesuch River and the Pan-Am rail line, which is used by the Amtrak Downeaster and other train traffic.

The Nonesuch River crossing, Cote said, would be similar in look to the bridge in the Scarborough Marsh and the one that traverses the Kennebunk River, which HNTB designed. Cote said it would costs $50,000 to construct.

The Pan-Am crossing would be much more complicated and expensive to construct. The bridge, which Cote called “the most significant feature in this project,” would cost upwards of $1 million to construct because it would have to be at least 22 feet high to allow rail traffic to pass underneath it.

Parking for the new trail section would be located at Eastern Road in Scarborough or at Wainwright Recreation Complex in South Portland. Cote said there could be potential for additional trailhead parking.

Bacon said the preliminary design report is expected to be completed in December.

“After that is completed there will be a scramble for funding,” Bacon said. “That could be one year. That could be two or three years given the lack of transportation funding out there.”

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