Sunday, April 28, 2013

Trail grant is a win for Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal Sunday April 28, 2013

By Mary Mushinsky and Cathy Granucci

Wallingford’s Quinnipiac River Linear Trail is one of the town’s most used outdoor sites, even in its incomplete state. As is true for other town trails, completing the 6.7 mile project in Wallingford is a major effort, so supporters are doing it in phases.

With Phase III permits nearing completion, and funds already raised, bidding and construction will soon proceed to take the trail another 1.25 mile from the tunnel under the Wilbur Cross Parkway to Fireworks Island and Yalesville. The two sides of Wallingford will be linked in a safe, traffic-free manner for walkers and bicyclists. Now we have a federally funded opportunity to build another phase: the connection from the riverside trail to the Wallingford Senior Center, S.C.O.W., and Washington Street neighborhood.

This opportunity is in the form of a million dollar federal grant through the regional Council of Governments. The project received the highest score among all the competing projects in the South Central Connecticut region. It ranked number one, meaning that the federal dollars designated for alternative transportation will go to Wallingford’s project first. Yet former town councilor Mike Brodinsky questioned the project’s funding in his opinion of April 21st. Having won the competition, why should we decline our top-ranked grant and allow another town to claim these funds? The grant process requires the town to appropriate the $1 million in its budget in order to be reimbursed.

The opinion piece questions the combination of senior center trail and Hall Avenue improvements. Hall Avenue funds are already in the town budget. While at first linking the two projects seemed unusual, in practice the combination made sense to the grant funders. First, there is an overlap in the physical work, as a new Hall Avenue paved walk will become part of the senior center trail, providing safe access to the senior center, S.C.O.W. and the densely populated Washington Street neighborhood. The paved walkway will replace an existing, intermittent sidewalk. Second, the project will allow people to move safely around the south perimeter of Community Lake. Third, ornamental lights, street trees and brickwork will enhance Route 150, one of the entrances to downtown Wallingford.

The senior center connection is a phase of the linear trail that links population centers to the rest of the trail. Trails are known to contribute to an increase in community health and fitness, and are crucial to reducing hypertension, anxiety, depression and diabetes, saving health costs.

This project was planned prior to the recession. Now, when money is tighter, Wallingford has the good fortune of coming in first in a regional competition for federal alternative transportation funds. It would truly be an unforgivable mistake to decline a $1 million grant, which would be eagerly welcomed by another municipality with a lower ranked project.

Rep. Mary Mushinsky and Cathy Granucci are co-chairs of the Quinnipiac River Linear Trail Advisory Committee.


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