2014-05-30 / Front Page

ET to expand to South Portland

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Officials from the Eastern Trail Management District have long dreamed of a time when a bicyclist, runner or walker could continuously travel off-road from the Piscataqua River in Kittery to Casco Bay in South Portland. Now, thanks to funding from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, that dream is a little bit closer to happening.

The communities of Scarborough and South Portland recently received $350,000 from PACTS to extend the Eastern Trail from Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough to Wainwright Field in South Portland. The .8 mile trail, once completed, will go from Wainwright Field through the woods past Prouts Pond along Central Maine Power property before connecting to Pleasant Hill Road.

“We have advertised this as a trail between Kittery and Casco Bay and with this, now we are getting closer and closer to making that a reality,” said Eastern Trail Management District President Tad Redway.

Scarborough Town Planner Dan Bacon said the total cost of the project is $531,000. The remainder of the funding comes from money South Portland had already set aside for trail expansion.

“There was already money waiting to be used, but not enough for the entire .8 miles,” Bacon said.

Bacon said the plan is to finalize designs and get permitting approval this summer and fall and start construction in late fall or early winter. The money, Bacon said, was not supposed to be available for another year or two, but given the fact money had already been appropriated and PACTS had some money left over in its fiscal budget, the organization decided to use some of that money to fund the project.

The trail expansion project, Bacon said, coincides with a two-year project by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Scarborough Department of Public Works to reconstruct Pleasant Hill Road and make it more pedestrian friendly.

Being pedestrian friendly is also a goal of the Eastern Trail. Much of the trail from Kennebunk to Scarborough utilizes the old Eastern Railroad corridor. Other sections of the trail, however, rely on existing roadways to connect communities, forcing walkers, bikers and runners to confront motor vehicle traffic as they use the trail.

“One of the most frustrating parts of the trail has been its fragmentation,” said Redway, who works as Arundel’s Town Planner.

This new section of trail is the first part of an overall plan to link Eastern Trail’s Scarborough Marsh corridor to South Portland’s Green Belt Walkway, an offroad path used by bikers, walkers and runners.

Connecting the marsh to South Portland has been a long-time goal, but one that has not come easily.

“Dan Stewart, Maine DOT’s Bike and Pedestrian Program manager, has said this is one of the highest bike and pedestrian improvements in the state because, once completed, the Eastern Trail is essentially an off-road trail from Bug Light in north South Portland to the Saco-Biddeford area. It is a huge connection for Scarborough and the towns north of us,” Bacon said.

Redway said the trail from Wainwright Field to Pleasant Hill Road is an important step forward in that goal.

“It improves the visibility and usability of that facility. I think South Portland is going to see (use) increase dramatically,” Redway said. “It is a great thing for the neighborhood.”

He said it would not have been possible without the tireless work of municipal officials in Scarborough and South Portland.

“We are really excited about it and I applaud both Scarborough and South Portland for being persistent because it wasn’t easy and to PACTS for funding it, which is terrific,” Redway said.

The biggest issue in expanding toward South Portland, Bacon said, is finding a practical and cost-effective way to extend the trail over the Nonesuch River and over the Pan-Am railroad line. A preliminary plan presented in November suggested building a bridge over the Nonesuch River similar to the ones that cross Scarborough Marsh and the Kennebunk River. The Pan-Am crossing would be much more complicated because it would need to be at least 22 feet high for rail traffic, which includes the Amtrak Downeaster, to pass underneath it.

The cost of building the bridges and extending the trail, Bacon said, would be upwards of $3 million.

“The cost is what is going to hold that back until we can get significant funding from Maine DOT or federal funding,” Bacon said.

Haeuser said once the two phases of the connection project are complete, it will be a great recreational resource for Scarborough and South Portland.

“If and when those are both complete, I think it is going to be tremendous in increasing the use and desirability of the trail considerably because it is going to cut down on the off-road parts,” said South Portland Planner Tex Haeuser.

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