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GM Tonawanda water line work cuts off trail, frustrating bikers, hikers

Bicyclists and joggers who enjoy using the picturesque Shoreline Trail as it runs along the Niagara River and Lake Erie have run into a roadblock this year in the Town of Tonawanda.

That's because work on the water lines that feed GM's Tonawanda Engine Plant has closed the bike path since spring, forcing riders and pedestrians to turn around or take a detour onto Niagara Street.

It's part of the Erie County trail system, but GM owns the property so the county has no control over the project. A GM representative said work is scheduled to wrap up in the next few weeks, which comes as good news to bikers who have complained to the county, crews at the site and this newspaper.

"I urge GM to complete this work posthaste so that all can resume enjoying this beautiful public thoroughfare," Peter Corrigan of Buffalo wrote in an Aug. 24 letter published in The Buffalo News.

This isn't the first time a section of a local bike path has closed for an extended period. The Town of Amherst in August 2018 closed a 40-year-old pedestrian bridge that carries the Erie Canalway Trail over Ransom Creek after an engineering consultant found the bridge is unsafe.

The town planned to replace the pedestrian bridge, which runs along Tonawanda Creek next to the Tonawanda Creek Road vehicle bridge, and was working with state and county officials on a solution to the problem. But bikers were warned not to use the neighboring vehicle bridge because that's not a safe alternative and the pedestrian bridge remains closed.

Safety concerns close Erie Canalway pedestrian bridge in Amherst

In Tonawanda, contractors for GM started their work in April, said Cherie Messore, a spokeswoman for the plant. Crews are repairing and replacing the 24-inch line that carries raw water from the Niagara River to the plant.

The work is taking place at several spots visible from the I-190 that runs parallel to the plant. The Riverwalk section of the Shoreline Trail runs between the 190 and and the river.

Crews have blocked off the bike path at a point near the plant's pump house, meaning path users coming from the north and the south must turn around when they reach the work site.

Someone approaching the plant from the north will see a sign placed by Erie County crews at the intersection of Aqua Lane and Sheridan Drive, just outside Aqua Lane Park, warning the trail is closed off 2,300 feet ahead.

Corrigan, in his letter, said he didn't see anyone doing work there when he visited on a recent weekday and he worried the company had "no great urgency to finish it."

Mike Holler, left, and his son Zander rest on a bench along the Riverwalk section of the Shoreline Trail in the Town of Tonawanda. (Stephen T. Watson/Buffalo News)

On Saturday, Mike Holler and his son Zander, 13, were sitting on a park bench just to the north of the work site enjoying the sunshine and the million-dollar riverfront view. The Hollers had ridden their bikes about 6 miles from their City of Tonawanda home and they typically stop there to rest before the return trip because they know they can't go any farther.

"We used to go all the way down to the Peace Bridge," said the elder Holler, who looks forward to seeing the repairs completed.

Messore said the work was originally expected to be finished by the end of August, but now the lead contractor, State Group, informs her it should be completed by the end of this month.

That's also what GM and the contractor have told county parks officials. Deputy Parks Commissioner Greg Olma said the county gets regular calls from trail users asking when the path will reopen.

The county urges riders to detour onto Niagara Street if they need to get around the blockage. But GM grants the county an easement for the trail to run through the automaker's property.

"They have all the power, we have none," Olma said. "We can't stop them. We can't hold them to any conditions. We try to work with them to get it done."

Despite signs warning people to stay away from the work site, which features a large hole in the ground, Messore said bicyclists still try to get over and around the barricades. And, she said, they sometimes take out their frustration on workers at the site.

"And perhaps," Messore said, "say things they wouldn't say at the dinner table in front of their grandmother."

She said she doesn't believe GM plans further disruption to the trail next year.

"We know the bike path is a valued part of our community. We have plenty of bikers on our staff who love and value and use it," Messore said. "It has been inaccessible during this necessary repair period and it's our hope it can be restored to use very soon."

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