The timeline for the proposed construction of a mixed-use bicycle and pedestrian lane on Henry W. DuBois Drive in New Paltz has been delayed. The timeline called for tree removal in the winter of 2022, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2022. Neither of these appears to be in the offing right now.
According to Kristie Di Cocco of Alta Planning, the engineering firm hired by the Town of New Paltz’s Bike/Walk HWD project, the tree removal – which caused a bevy of concern and criticism from neighbors who abut the road – will not likely take place until November of 2022 through March of 2023, “due to schedule changes.”
After accepting public comments on the approximately $2.75 million project at the end of June 2021, the Town’s preferred plan was submitted to the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) for its review. “We have heard from DOT,” Di Coco told Hudson Valley One. “The departmental review period was longer than that [the anticipated four to six weeks], unfortunately. However, we have received their comments and there are discussions occurring around the comments that they have provided to us on the plan set. We are working through this with the Department and hope to resolve any outstanding items soon.”
In an e-mail with a landowner at the corner of Prospect Street and Henry W. DuBois this January, Di Cocco said that the “DOT wants a different typical section for the narrow portions of the proposed trail. They are asking for a wider buffer and different materials to be installed.” He noted that the path likely “won’t start until spring 2023,” and that landscaping changes can be found on an updated plan at https://walkbikehwd.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/6/6/126614255/8462.48_rendering_20210608_lowres.pdf.
The project is a Locally Administered Federal Aid Project sponsored by the Town of New Paltz. The DOT is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the project, but project and construction costs are being covered by a grant that the Town of New Paltz secured from the Federal Highway Administration. The FHA will pay 80 percent of the costs while the Town will fund the remaining 20 percent.
The project will connect the existing Hudson Valley Rail Trail (HVRT) to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (WVRT) by way of Henry W. DuBois via North Putt Corners Road, westward to North Chestnut Street. The proposed plan calls for an approximately 10-foot-wide paved mixed-use trail that will run on the southern side of DuBois. While 10 feet is the standard for federally funded mixed-use paths, the Town and its engineers did try and narrow it in certain sections where there was difficult terrain, shale outcroppings or utility poles, and/or the standard width would require the taking of land.
Right now, the plan is well within the Town’s right-of-way and does not encroach into anyone’s private property. New Paltz Town supervisor Neil Bettez said that that was one of the concerns that the DOT has. “We have some sections where it’s only eight feet in width, and that’s not standard.” Bettez noted that the Town can propose and implement something that does not completely conform to State and Federal standards, but that it has to prove that the benefits outweigh any potential risks the narrowing might cause.
Although there are approximately 30 mature trees and shrubs that will be removed to allow for the construction of the trail connector, Alta Planning and the Town have said that they will work with landowners to replant new trees where existing ones were removed. The opposition to the cutting of trees is still visible along DuBois, where signs read, “Save the Trees” on either side of the road. “Some of the trees are dead, and we will plant more than 30 trees,” said Bettez, who also noted that the Town had applied for and received a $425,000 Green Infrastructure Grant that it will use “towards creating better drainage that the project will impact,” and possibly some more landscaping and tree-plantings.
There was a lot of public comment over the spring and summer in regard to design elements and landscaping. According to Bettez, the “preferred alternative” that the Town proposed included some sections with a vertical barrier and other sections with raised curbs. “That’s another question the DOT had: why some places had barriers and not others.”
Di Cocco did say that the barrier selected “will be the box-beam barrier,” and that the trees to be removed are the same ones that were identified in the June 2021 meeting. Due to overhead utility requirements, “Some trees will require trimming, but no full tree removals have been added.”
In response to questions about tree removals and timing, Di Cocco told Hudson Valley One, “We have discussed the potential for the Town to remove the trees; however, most of the trees are located adjacent to overhead utility wires, and in some cases are intertwined with those wires. My understanding is that if the trees were not so closely located and, in some cases, embedded in the wires, then the Town would happily do the tree removals; but this is not our situation. The holdup on the tree removals is in consideration of a few things, but mainly the time period in which trees would be removed to the time period when trees would be replaced. If trees are removed in the next two months, it could be another nine to 18 months before trees would be replaced. This would leave the corridor and the property-owners who are affected with exposed properties for an extended period of time. Further, there are other items to be addressed as part of the project that are driving the schedule.”
Simply put, Bettez said that it’s getting “too late to go out to bid on the project. That should have happened in September, maybe October at the latest. We had hoped that the review process would be done sooner, but it wasn’t. Most contractors have already lined up their work for the spring and summer. Technically we could still go out to bid, but with supply-chain issues being the way they are and it getting close to the end of January, it’s unlikely.”
If construction is not going to start for another year, then there is no point in removing trees now.
Proponents of the project claim that shared-use paths provide safe and easy access for alternative modes of transportation that can help get people out of their cars, reducing emissions and traffic congestion and encouraging healthy, active lifestyles. When completed, this path will be part of the Empire State Path, an 800-mile non-motorized trail that will begin in Battery Park in New York City and travel all the way to Buffalo.
“One of the reasons the preferred alternative was the shared-use path was because the goal was to get interested but concerned people (more than half the population) to use it,” said Supervisor Bettez, an avid cyclist. “According to the Town’s and Village greenhouse gas inventory [www.townofnewpaltz.org/sites/g/files/vyhlif3541/f/file/file/report-greenhouse_gas_inventories_for_the_town_and_village_of_new_paltz_ulster_county_new_york_2019-06-10.pdf], transportation was the largest source, even if you don’t include the Thruway (see page14). So, if we can get more people out of their cars, either walking or on bikes (including on e-bikes, which you will hear more soon), we can reduce traffic and emissions.”
Asked if creating separate bike/pedestrian pathways will result in people actually getting out of their cars to travel from place to place, rather than simply offering more recreational opportunities, Di Cocco said, “Regarding the mode shift questions, there is so much more to shifting modes of transportation than just facilities. Facilities are a critical component (can’t ride/walk if it’s not safe or comfortable), but having destinations that support the infrastructure (Stewart’s, healthcare facilities, grocery stores, restaurants, schools et cetera), having other bike/ped connections to walk/ride to (WVRT, Millbrook Preserve, the rest of EST) and having these facilities built near the areas of highest need will all play a role. In the case of HWD, a lot of these other factors are present, suggesting that HWD will initiate mode shift in some people. To really have an impact, a next critical component to getting people out of their cars and on the path for non-recreational use is providing connections down the side streets that lead to Route 299 and other places of interest/need. While the most fearless will walk/ride down the side streets as-is, those that are interested, but concerned, may hesitate without a dedicated space to be.”
Supervisor Bettez pointed to a blog post from Alta that identifies four different types of cyclists, from “strong and fearless” to “no way, nohow,” including a large swath of residents in between, almost 56 percent, who they believe would be more likely to utilize bicycles as a mode of transportation if there was high-quality infrastructure (https://blog.altaplanning.com/understanding-the-four-types-of-cyclists-112e1d2e9a1b).
“We’re also applying for several more grants to enhance pathways that cyclists and pedestrians could take safely to Duzine and to the Millbrook Preserve,” said Bettez. “I think it would be great if kids could safely and comfortably ride or walk to Duzine or from the Middle School to the Millbrook Preserve. We’re working on creating many more connections that will hopefully encourage people to get out of their cars.”
Although the timeline has yet to be changed, more information on the Bike/Walk HWD project can be found on the town’s website at https://walkbikehwd.weebly.com.