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Rails-to-trails work may begin soon

Construction on Cheektowaga's long-planned and frequently discussed historic rails-to-trails path could start this fall.

Bids for the work will be opened Aug. 20, and construction is expected to start in September.

"I'm overjoyed," Council Member Thomas M. Johnson Jr. said.

Johnson has shepherded the bicycle/pedestrian path through hoops and hurdles over the years, and said he is glad to get the project under way before he retires from office Dec. 31.

"We've had 10 years of bureaucratic obstruction, delay and red tape," he said. "In 32 years I have never encountered more bureaucratic red tape and obstruction than this."

The town has been discussing the possibility of converting the abandoned Norfolk Southern railroad lines for at least 13 years.

The $1.9 million project is funded primarily by federal grant money. Cheektowaga is contributing services worth about $400,000 for its share, Johnson said. The path will connect the town's largest park, Stiglmeier on Como Park Boulevard, and Dingens Park, with a stop at Wrazen Park in Sloan on the way. It will follow the shoulder of a rehabilitated Como Park Boulevard to Union Road and go over Union on a bridge installed by the state Department of Transportation near the Erie County Water Authority. It continues east on the abandoned railroad right of way under the Thruway to Harlem Road and William Street and finally to Dingens Park.

A bike rack and comfort station with a railroad depot motif will be built in Stiglmeier Park. A comfort station is planned for Dingens, but may not be built at this time.

"We are creating a scenic route that will have a historic aspect to it," Johnson said.

He said costs have increased since the grants were awarded, and there are about $450,000 in nonconstruction costs, so there is about $1.4 million available for construction.

The town is paying $224,000 to Erie County to rebuild the shoulder of Como Park when the road is rehabilitated. Cheektowaga had an agreement to lease railroad property, but the state insisted that the town buy it, so it spent $130,000 for the purchase. The town also must pay $95,000 in fees for professional construction inspection, Johnson said.

Erie County intends to put the Como Park Boulevard work out for bid later this year, with an expected construction start of next spring, said Charles A. Sickler, director of engineering for the Erie County Public Works Department.

Johnson said the path will have 911-call boxes placed along it, and regular police patrols, including officers on bikes.


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