2018-01-04 / Front Page

Funds arrive to close ET gap

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SOUTHERN MAINE – Christmas arrived early for the Eastern Trail Alliance, which for years has dreamed of finding the funding to close a 1.6-mile gap of the Eastern Trail between the Nonesuch River in Scarborough and Wainwright Athletic Field in South Portland and for the past few years has been working to raise the more than $4 million needed to complete the project.

Last week, at a meeting with Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall, the Maine Department of Transportation, al- ready a sizeable donor to the effort, agreed to fill the remainder of the fundraising gap.

“The meeting didn’t require a hard sell,” Hall said at the Dec. 21 meeting of the Close the Gap Committee. “I truly believe the hard work we have done with fundraising resonated with them. We didn’t just sit back and wait.”

Hall said the gap was roughly $500,000. The DOT had previously contributed $1.55 million to the project, which it saw as the highest priority trail project in the state.

Joyce Taylor, chief engineer of the Maine Department of Transportation, said DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt “agreed to fill whatever the gap was when they are ready to advertise it for bidding.”

“He appreciated the private donations and all the support the project has had,” she said.

The fundraising gap to complete the project is closed, but as Scarborough resident and Bicycle Coalition of Maine member Larry Rubinstein said that doesn’t mean the need to raise funding is totally over because a maintenance account for the trail may be necessary.

“The fundraising is not finished even though we’ve met the goal for initial construction,” he said, adding there may be “enhancements” that the group would like to add to the project, such as benches, water fountains or rest areas, that were not part of the preliminary plans.

“As we finalize the design, we could still have a need (for more funding),” Hall said.

The decision by the department of transportation comes on the heels of a successful month of fundraising when nearly $100,000 was raised through grants and private contributions, including a $30,000 commitment from the Caiazzo family in Scarborough. The project has also had the support of the communities of South Portland and Scarborough, which have contributed a total of $285,000, the Eastern Trail Alliance ($100,000), area businesses ($205,000), more than 434 private donations ($104,000), the 2017 Eastern Trail Alliance annual appeal ($1,900), grants ($61,755) and events ($16,000). The membership of PACTS, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, has given more than $1.1 million toward the effort.

Eastern Trail Alliance director Carole Brush said there are three additional events planned for spring that will benefit the trail extension project, including a gala in April at Camp Ketcha, the John Andrews 5K on the trail in May and a 10K Mend Health and Wellness of Scarborough is planning this spring.

“It feels absolutely fantastic to have such tremendous support from the Maine Department of Transportation, PACTS and corporate and private donations. It’s been overwhelming,” Brush said.

While the gap may measure only 1.6 miles, making that connection is a complicated and expensive endeavor since it requires building two bridges, one over the Nonesuch River, which thanks to contributions from Town & Country Federal Credit Union, will be named in honor of Wilfred Couture and Edward Connolly, two longtime credit union supporters, and one over the Pan-American Railroad that is used by Amtrak and freight trains.

“Town & Country is proud to be a major supporter of the Eastern Trail’s Close the Gap initiative and is very excited the DOT is committed to providing additional support to bring the project to completion,”

David Libby, president and CEO of the credit union, which has branches in both Scarborough, and said in a statement to the Courier. “The Eastern Trail is an important resource for our community. By completing the 1.6-mile gap between South Portland and Scarborough, it will help bring our communities closer together and expand the already wonderful recreational opportunities for our neighbors. In fact, several of our employees are really looking forward to commuting to work once the trail is complete.”

After the trail crosses Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough, it will pass along the pond behind Pleasant Hill Driving Range before connecting to the Wainwright recreation area in South Portland.

“We are just thrilled DOT has agreed with everyone in greater Portland that the Eastern Trail project is so important to the region,” said Paul Duncan, director of Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. “This is an unusual project for us at PACTS. When we heard about it, the staff said we really want to make a contribution to it and when we went to our board, our board said ‘absolutely’ and they almost tripled the amount of money we proposed. The communities of PACTS, its members have been strong supporters of the project.”

PACTS has given more than $1.1 million toward the effort, including, Duncan said, $650,000 to build the requisite bridges to cross the river and railroad line. The group also contributed money for other work needed for the project and for outreach.

“The people in greater Portland love this sort of healthy transportation system development. We are hearing that from all around the region,” Duncan said.

The Eastern Trail extension project has long been one Scarborough officials have supported.

“This will be an unprecedented recreational amenity,” Hall said.

The Eastern Trail is a 65-mile section of both on and off-road trail between South Portland and Kittery. When the Scarborough gap is completed, the trail will create 16 miles of uninterrupted off-road trail between South Portland’s Bug Light and downtown Saco. Much of the Eastern Trail through Scarborough runs along the old Eastern Railroad that operated from 1842 to 1945 and was the first railroad to connect Boston to Portland. The trail opened through Scarborough Marsh in 2004.

Brush said the Eastern Trail Alliance is in the process of updating the economic impact study that Eastern Trail Alliance founder John Andrews did several years ago. The study will combine the online and in person surveys from users and the numbers generated from counters placed along 16 miles of the trail. Brush said according to the counters, there were more than 100,000 users on the trail over the summer months.

South Portland Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said there is also enthusiasm for the project in South Portland. The city has contributed funding toward the project and has been a vocal supporter along the way.

“Once the gap is filled, the linkage it provides between different communities, is going to be huge,” Reny said.

Reny said the Eastern Trail gap is just but one of the trail projects the city has supported over the years

“The city of South Portland has been investing in trail connections in our Greenbelt, which is the backbone of our trail system that runs through the city,” Reny said. “We are working on a Greenbelt connection on Lincoln Avenue that connects to the Veterans Memorial Bridge into Portland and link up to the corner of Evans (Street) and Broadway.”

The community services and planning departments in Scarborough worked with HNTB, an infrastructure solutions firm that has an office in Westbrook, on preliminary plans, but that work was put on hold until the fundraising effort secured enough money for the project to move on. Hall said Bill Reichl, recreation manager for the Scarborough Community Services Department will circle back to HNTB to begin final design work, which needs to be done before the project can go through a rigorous permitting process.

The hope, Hall said, is to start the work next summer/fall and be completed sometime in 2019.

Brush said the Scarborough-South Portland gap is but just one of the gaps the Eastern Trail Alliance is trying to fill. She said the success of the Close the Gap campaign, “paves the way for us to fill the gap from Kennebunk to South Berwick. That gap covers 19 miles, nine of which are under preliminary design and surveying.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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