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Harlem Valley Rail Trail
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Update - April, 2009 - The Harlem Valley Rail, Phase 4, design development schedule continues to be driven by the extraordinary environmental study/protection challenges which exist along the project route. Segments of the project route are currently inundated with water.

On April 3, 2009, county engineers met with representatives from Region 3 and 4 of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Corp of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss potential impacts on wetlands and protected species, and to identify and discuss the feasibility of strategies to avoid, minimize and mitigate potential impacts.

Representatives of both state and federal environmental regulatory agencies conducted a joint field review of the most sensitive areas of the trail route on April 24, 2009. Additional field visits are planned in the near future.

There are at least two areas within this phase of the HVRT where beavers have dammed streams and caused flooding of the rail line to the extent that the wetland has now encroached onto the rail line. In addition to potential wetland impacts, the envisioned trail route along the abandoned rail bed is adjacent to the habitat of a New York endangered species, the Bog Turtle. As a result of discussions with regulatory agencies, Dutchess County commissioned a Phase 2 Bog Turtle study in April, which will reveal the presence of Bog Turtles. This study will be completed in June, 2009.

The discussion at the meeting has led to the development of an additional design alternative treatment for the most environmentally sensitive section of this corridor from Rudd Pond Road to White House Crossing Road. One additional alternative treatment being considered would involve designation of this section of trail as an environmentally sensitive trail for the purpose of educating the public and creating an awareness of man's influence on the natural systems within the Harlem Valley. The trail would be designed to accommodate hikers and low speed "fat-tire" bicyclists. The tread would be six feet wide and consist of a gravel surface over the existing ground. Clearing of trees would be minimal. The flooded sections and wetlands would be traversed with a boardwalk that would be constructed along the old rail embankment.

An additional element of this possible alternative would be to route bicyclists with road bikes to use CR 63 between Rudd Pond Road and White House Crossing Road. That on-road alternate route would be signed as a shared roadway. This 2.5 mile alternate route would present a diversion of approximately twelve minutes for bicyclists who would prefer a higher speed route.

This segment could also be developed into an outdoor classroom. The shoulder of the roadway might be widened to allow parking for school buses and this section of trail could be promoted as a separate place of interest within the overall trail system. The trail would be accessible from a proposed parking facility on NYOPRHP land for people who would be visiting for the sole purpose of experiencing a natural trail facility through the wetlands of the Harlem Valley

Other alternative treatments which are under consideration, based upon the project route's environmental constraints, are placement of significant segments of the route on a boardwalk structure or the purchase of adjacent land to route the trail around critical environmental areas.

With the addition of these alternative treatments, comments from the April 3, 2009 Agency meeting, and the results of a Phase 2 Bog Turtle Survey that is being conducted this Spring, the Draft Design Report will be completed and submitted for agency and public review.

After incorporation of comments from agency and public review, the Final Design Report will be prepared and Design Approval acquired. At that time the final design and preparation of construction contract documents will be commenced. We estimated that the final design process can be accomplished in approximately seven to nine months from the Design Approval date. That approval remains dependent upon the timely review by, and coordination with, environmental regulatory agencies, which lies beyond the control of Dutchess County.

The funding schedule for all federally funded transportation projects is currently under review by the Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization in conjunction with the New York State Department of Transportation. The funding for many projects had been projected to be delayed in an initial review which occurred last year. With the funding injection provided by the federal stimulus program, we are hopeful that this project can be advanced as soon as the design is complete. We will continue to rank this project among our top funding priorities.


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