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Tonawanda Rails-to-Trails project moving forward

Town of Tonawanda officials were looking ahead Monday to warmer months when walkers, joggers and bicyclists will finally traverse a long-planned trail along an old, abandoned rail line.

The Town Board was briefed Monday on plans for the Tonawanda Rails-to-Trails at their afternoon work session by Town Engineer Jim Jones who said construction on the project led by Erie County should begin in spring 2015.

The nearly four-mile trail, planned for a right of way owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, would begin at Kenmore Avenue, cross Englewood Avenue near Parker Boulevard, run along Center Avenue to north of Sheridan Drive and end at State Street in the City of Tonawanda.

“It’s been in planning for many, many years,” Jones said. “But we’re getting real close now to making it a reality.”

At the Town Board’s regular meeting Monday night, lawmakers approved three permanent property easements with the county to move the project along.

The land is the former Erie Lackawanna Railway bed, which last saw train traffic in the early 1980s. The NFTA took it over in 1988 and railroad tracks and ties were removed in 2003.

Design plans call for a 12-foot-wide paved asphalt path lined by two feet of stone on each side and brush cleared 10 feet beyond that. Benches would line the trail at quarter-mile intervals and architectural gateways would be placed at each of the “community connection points” where neighborhoods will pick up the trail.

The trail will link other town recreation spots such as Lincoln Park, Kenney Field, the Ken-Ton Family YMCA on Belmont Avenue and Cardinal O’Hara High School. It will also eventually hook up with the North Buffalo Rails-to-Trails project, which begins at the LaSalle Park and Ride station on Main Street.

“The public has been extremely receptive to the trail,” Jones said. “They see it as a health and wellness initiative and an opportunity to get out there and enjoy this area.”

The town would assume operation and maintenance of the trail once it is completed, he said. Federal funds are paying for 80 percent of the trail, which has been talked about for at least 10 years. County funding will pay for the rest. The county is expected to call for bids in the fall.

Meanwhile, another long-envisioned trail – on the drawing board since 2002 – is slated to open early this spring, Jones said. The two-mile-long Sherwood Greenway goes south from Sheridan Drive and runs parallel to Riverview Boulevard, through the parklike campus of Praxair.

It then heads west along the southern right of way of Woodward Avenue west to Kenmore Avenue, where it jogs northwest to Sheridan, then southwest along Sheridan to Riverwalk.