As published in the Record Journal Sunday May 12, 2013
By Stephen Knight
It’s amazing to think that The Quinnipiac River Linear Trail Advisory Committee is now in its 15th year of existence.
The discussion over whether the Town of Wallingford should accept a $1 million federal grant to extend the existing trail to the Senior Center and SCOW buildings in lieu of more pressing needs has been the subject of recent articles and columns in the Record-Journal and at a Town Council Budget Workshop.
Having expended virtually hundreds of hours to win the grant, to refuse the money at this point in time would be sheer folly, regardless of whether the trail is viewed as a critical recreational facility or just an amenity whose construction should wait for “better times,” whenever that might be. However, I would like to add two other points that should be considered as part of the decision- making process: 1) the years and years of effort that this Committee has put in should be respected, highlighted and acknowledged and 2) the long slog through the myriad bureaucratic obstacles that the committee has endured is part of the investment that needs to be noted.
First of all, this committee has been working on this project since 1997. I repeat. 1997. A couple of people back then had a vision for a wonderful passive recreational activity, a committee was formed, the Town Engineering Department
was engaged to assist in the process, and onward they have marched. Phase One, the original one-mile section, was completed in 1999. Phase Two, the bridge across the river and the tunnel under the Parkway, was completed in 2004-2005. Since then, they have been working on Phase Three that will run from the tunnel to Yalesville. They have never lost their vision, they have stayed focused on the work itself (skillfully avoided their work being politicized, and have persuaded state and federal officials to underwrite virtually 75 percent of the construction. There have been many reasons to have become discouraged and perhaps just thrown in the towel. Changes in the economy, changes in the makeup of the committee, changes in regulations, and the sheer volume of paperwork involved in securing state and federal grants would have made many committees abandon the project as hopeless. But this committee did not. And in the calculus of deciding whether or not to continue pursuit of a Linear Trail running from North Haven to Meriden, this tenacity and this effort should be included.
Secondly, a significant and costly part of the Town and committee’s investment in this trail consists of overcoming the incredible and wasteful inertia of DEEP, DOT and the Army Corps of Engineers. The primary reason that Phase Three has been in development for eight years is the necessity of having approval from these three government entities, each one of them structured – I swear on purpose – to force each and every project through a process of delays, deviations and distractions to see if the advocates would just please go away and leave them alone. We saw it with the North Plains Industrial Road rebuilding, and we are seeing it here. Call me stubborn, but I just can’t see packing in this project only half way through completion and allowing the intransigence of these bureaucracies to win the day. And that is what we would be doing, whether that was the intent or not.
These two elements I describe above are not reason enough to see this project through. We know that. Allocating scarce resources requires a constant reexamination of priorities. But it is important to also figure in the huge effort expended to get a given project to that midpoint. The Quinnipiac Linear Trail Advisory Committee has earned that consideration in spades.