Can, where, and should another segment of the Shoreline Greenway Trail (SGT) be built in Madison? As the town considers building another section of the trail in town, residents along the proposed route and community members at large are taking an interest. At a public information session on June 13, town officials provided more information on the proposed section and fielded questions and comments from residents.
The SGT is a planned, 25-mile continuous path designed for cyclists, walkers, and hikers. It is envisioned to, once completed, span five towns, with New Haven marking one end and Hammonasset State Park in Madison marking the other. The Hammonasset section of trail in town is already complete.
The next proposed section of trail would stretch from Nathan’s Lane to the East River Bridge and would have ideally connected with the heavily disputed and recently voted-down proposed section in Guilford. If built, this section would bookend the town of Madison.
The section from the East River Bridge to Nathan’s Lane would cover approximately 4,000 feet, according to SGT Vice-chair and Madison trail group Chair Virginia Raff. In previous conversations with the Board of Selectmen (BOS), Raff said that the trail received a federal grant of $800,000 several years ago as well as a state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection grant for $130,000 to complete this section.
The town was awarded the money nearly 10 years ago, but had yet to move forward with another section after locations were changed. However, the grant remaining unspent for 10 years sent up red flags at the state Department of Transportation (DOT). As a result, town and state officials have elected to cancel the existing project number and generate a new project number once a plan to construction is established. According to First Selectman Tom Banisch, the act of canceling the project and generating a new project number does not affect the monies attached to the project and relieves the town of following a compressed project timeline.
At the meeting, Banisch reminded the crowd of more than 50 residents that the BOS has not taken any formal action on this section of the trail to date and is interested in collecting public input.
“I have to be very honest—nothing is planned,” he said. “We are looking at options and it is going to be important for the people of Madison to get involved in this process and make their feelings known. It is completely up to you what we do here. It is not up to me and it is not up to the SGT, it is up to the town of Madison to decide what happens on this route.”
A Look at the Design
Madison Director of Engineering Mike Ott confirmed that the town has not undertaken any design or engineering work on this proposed section of trail, but has walked the proposed section to determine possible challenges along the route.
Ott recapped the history of the project and explained details and possible challenges with this section. According to Ott, if this section is built, the trail will be between 8- to 10 feet wide and paved. Utility poles will have to be moved to make way for the trail and the trail will cross over some commercial parking lots along the Post Road. However, most of the land crossed is within the state right-of-way, meaning the property used by businesses for parking lots do not actually belong to the business owners but to the state.
As to the rationale for building this particular section, the idea was to connect with the proposed section in Guilford that would head west from the East River Bridge. Residents at the meeting pointed out that Guilford turned down that section earlier this year, theoretically eliminating the hope of connecting the trails, but both Banisch and Ott said Guilford officials had shared some different news.
Guilford First Selectman Joe Mazza and Town Engineer Jim Portley “have told us as recently as yesterday that they are still considering there section of the overall trail in Guilford beginning at the East River and making its way west into Guilford,” said Ott. “I can’t speak for them, but that is my understanding. There is some logic in looking at this section in Madison.”
Regardless of if the proposed Madison section could connect to a Guilford section, residents expressed concerns over the cost of the project, the location on a heavy-traffic road, future trail maintenance responsibilities, and anticipated usage. Resident Maureen Lopes said she doesn’t see Route 1 as an ideal location for a trail.
“The little bit our Route 1 I walk on is not pleasant,” she said. “There is traffic and there is pollution. When I think about a greenway trail, I think about being away from cars, not having them whizzing past me… Safety is a big issue on this.”
Resident Cathi Bosco, who lives along the proposed section, said she was initially excited about the idea of the SGT, but said she is uncomfortable with running a trail along Route 1 in Madison, particularly without a plan for the whole trail through town available to the public.
“Developing trails in the woods can be done segment by segment…Urban development in high traffic areas requires a lot more planning,” she said. “You have to have an overall plan for the entire town approved before you can start developing. That is part of the ‘If there is no plan there should be no approval.’”
The “No Map, No Plan, No Approval” slogan that dominated the Guilford SGT debate quickly wound its way into the debate in Madison, with signs popping up on lawns in town and residents echoing the slogans sentiment in the meeting. The meeting even drew some of the biggest opponents to the Guilford trail section to Madison, including Patricia Klindienst, who said she was alarmed to hear Guilford might still be considering a section of trial.
“Something is wrong here and what I would like to say to the people in Madison is that we made sure that we did everything we could to talk about what was a problem with the trail plan in Guilford,” she said. “I can assure the people of Madison that we will fight tooth and nail to keep this out of Guilford, so to promise Madison that Guilford will connect is a false promise.”
While the majority of residents spoke about the potential negatives of the proposed section of the trail or the SGT plan as a whole, others praised the idea of an off-road trail or suggested alternative locations for the next section of trail. Former first selectman Fillmore McPherson said he would be interested in a section between Lovers Lane and Scotland Avenue, which would link the existing Hammonasset section of trail to the downtown area.
“I would like to support the suggestion of building or at least building some of the piece between Lovers Lane and Scotland Avenue,” he said. “I think that is something that would be beneficial to a lot of Madison people, even if the rest of trail never gets built. That section would be an immediate benefit to a lot of people in Madison.”
Other residents were more emphatic in their support of the SGT. Resident Bruce Beebe spoke about the success of greenway trails in other parts of the country and said Madison would benefit from this trial.
“In the big picture this may take 50 years to complete…but I see it as something to tie the community together,” he said. “It would be great to walk and not be right on Route 1…I think it is something worth moving forward with and yeah, it is going to cost a pile of money, but the benefit we are going to get is going to be priceless.”
At the end of the meeting Raff said she thought the meeting went as expected and Banisch told residents there will be more meetings down the road.
“This is the first of many meetings that we are going to have and it is not because we like having meetings but I think it is really important that we make sure the people of Madison are aware of what is going on and that they have a chance to weigh in,” he said. “We are listening and we are very interested in anything you have to say.”