Poloncarz, Higgins, partners cut ribbon on pathway linking Tonawandas to Buffalo
$3.5 million investment leverages Erie County, federal funds to enhance community connectivity, walkability
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Thursday by Congressman Brian Higgins, Erie County legislators Peter Savage and Kevin Hardwick, Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger, City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel, New York State Department of Transportation Region 5 Director Darrell Kaminski, trail supporters and residents to cut the ribbon and officially open the Tonawanda "Rails to Trails" project, a four-mile-long connecting trail that runs from Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda to State Street in the City of Tonawanda.
The project connects at the south end with the City of Buffalo's North Buffalo "Rails to Trails," and on the north end to the Tonawanda "Rails to Trails" extension (which is currently under design). It will stretch from State Street in the City of Tonawanda to East Niagara Street and the Erie Canalway Trail.
"The completion of the 'Rails to Trails' project marks the beginning of a new era of connectivity in Erie County," Poloncarz said. "Residents are now able to travel from Buffalo to Tonawanda without driving a car, but instead by riding a bicycle or walking along a trail that connects communities with each other and also connects residents to nature and to our waterfront. This project embraces smart growth principles by protecting open spaces while investing in established neighborhoods, which are now connected to each other in new ways. More walkability and outdoor recreational opportunities are things that all communities want, and, on behalf of all Erie County residents, I thank our partners for helping to make the 'Rails to Trails' project a reality."
Higgins said, "With the Town of Tonawanda 'Rails to Trails' project, once again we see Western New York take something old and turn it into something fresh and new. This trail provides a recreational connection between Buffalo and the Tonawandas, serving as a welcome addition to the network of paths enjoyed by walkers, runners, riding enthusiasts and families alike."
The trail is a 12-foot-wide asphalt pathway with various access points and small parking areas at each end. Federal funds provided 80 percent of the funding for the trails project, with Erie County funding the remaining 20 percent. Design work on the project began in 2005 and construction began in 2015.
The trail replaces an old, disused railroad bed that had bisected the community and also features a high-intensity activated crosswalk ("HAWK") signal at the point where the trail crosses Sheridan Drive. The first of its kind to be used in New York, the HAWK signal both increases pedestrian safety on the trail and enhances motorists' awareness of pedestrians seeking to cross Sheridan.
Along with the HAWK signal, the installation of rectangular rapid-flashing beacons ("RRFBs") at intersections of the trail with Englewood Avenue and Brighton Road in the town, south and north of Sheridan, will increase motorists' yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks in those locations.
"This trail has marks a new era in our town, not only of one of health and fitness, but also of one of connectivity, where people will be better able to get to our beautiful waterfront in our region and enjoy it," Emminger said. "I haven't been able to go anywhere over the past eight months or so without people raving about the mew Tonawanda trail and it hadn't even officially opened. This trail is proof that, working together with other local governments and other government officials, good things can happen and do happen. Partnering with Erie County, New York state and the NFTA, this almost four-mile trail is not just a dream anymore - it's a reality!"
Also joining in the ribbon-cutting celebration from the Town of Tonawanda were Deputy Supervisor and Councilman John Bargnesi along with councilmen Bill Conrad and Dan Crangle; Town Engineer Jim Jones; Director of Youth, Parks & Recreation Jeff Ehlers; Parks Supervisor Rich Ford; Town Historian Ed Adamczyk; Town Planning Board member Denis Uminski; and Police Chief Jerry Uschold with Lt. Nick Bado. Others in attendance included Lynn Marinelli, current director of intergovernmental relations at Empire State Development and a longtime supporter of the project from her tenure in the Erie County Legislature; and Devan Lawton of the WNY Railway Historical Society. In addition to Davis, attending officials from the City of Tonawanda included DPW Superintendent Joe Warthling and Chief of Police William Strassburg.
The Tonawanda "Rails to Trails" extension project will proceed north from the current project's terminus at State Street in the City of Tonawanda until it intersects Fillmore Avenue. The trail will then proceed north down Fillmore until it hits East Niagara Street and the Erie Canalway Trail. The portion of the trail from State Street (after crossing Young Street) to Fillmore will be off road and will cross Ellicott Creek via the old railroad bridge. At the north end of the bridge, the trail will pass by and connect to Eastern Park. Once the trail hits Fillmore, pedestrians will be accommodated via sidewalk improvements and bicyclists will be accommodated in the roadway through re-paving, re-striping and lane sharing markings.