Come spring, joggers and bikers on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail may encounter paving crews out tearing up the pavement to smooth over bumps.
At a Farmington Canal Commission meeting Tuesday evening, Chair David Schaefer told the commission that he wants to encourage good maintenance of the trail by seeing the town make more repairs.
In the fall of 2015, members of the public works department went out with a golf cart and drove the length of the trail in Hamden to survey the places that needed work.
The department then got a $100,000 bond from the state to do repairs. The department chose a contractor through a bidding process; the repairs began in June 2016. They continued through 2017, but in 2018 spring storms and then the tornado forced the department to focus elsewhere, putting the Farmington Canal repairs on hold. In all, Siciliano said the department had spent most of the $100,000 on the repairs.
When the town fixes the pavement on the canal trail, it’s not just a matter of paving, said Assistant Director of Public Works and Parks Mike Siciliano. Tree roots, in most cases, are the root of the trail’s problems. When tree roots grow under the trail, they crack the pavement.
Winters like the current one, with frequent fluctuations in temperature between freezing and above freezing only make matters worse. Water seeps into cracks formed by pressure from tree roots and then when it freezes, the water expands, making even larger bumps in the pavement.
In order to fix the trail, whomever public works contracts with will have to first dig up the existing pavement, then dig down to the roots and pull them up. The contractor then fills the dirt back in and regrades the trail before it finally repaves.
The last time public works did repairs on the trail, according to Siciliano, it focused on the northern part of the trail in Hamden. Northern Hamden is more wooded; hence roots had caused more damage there than in the south. Some 60 percent of the repairs, he said, took place north of Sherman Avenue. Now, parts of the trail in southern Hamden need work, especially south of Treadwell Street.
Schaefer said that he will reach out to public works to find a time to go out with a golf cart again and assess the need for repairs.
The process of repairs will likely begin in March or April, when, Siciliano said, he anticipates starting the bidding process to find a contractor to do the work. Because of the delays in 2018 due to storm damage, the bid for the 2016 and 2017 work has now expired. Asphalt plants don’t open until March or April, he said, so no contractor could begin work until spring anyway. Come May or June, Siciliano said he, hopes he will have a team out doing the repair work, and if more work is needed, it will continue into the fall.
“We keep the trail passable at all times during repairs,” said Siciliano, though public works makes sure there are “lots of warning and detour signs.”
Siciliano said he didn’t know how much it would end up costing, but he estimated anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000.
A Beloved Resource
Until the 1980s, the trail was a railroad. When the rail traffic ended and the rail line shut down, a group of activists from Hamden and Cheshire began to advocate for converting the old rail line into a trial. That group of activists eventually became the Farmington Canal Rails-to-Trails Association.
Hamden’s Farmington Canal Commission has been around since 1990. Schaefer has been the chair since the early 1990s.
The commission has only an advisory role in the town. It makes recommendations to the legislative council. It does not have official jurisdiction regarding the financial recommendations it makes.
Nonetheless, said Schaefer, the council usually listens when the commission makes a recommendation. “We have power because this is one of the most popular things in the town of Hamden,” he said in the meeting.
Schaefer later noted that the trail is not only popular among Hamden residents, but also with visitors come from other towns. “It is the most used park in Hamden,” he said, adding that people don’t just use it for recreation; many people use it to commute into New Haven, or to travel between the northern and southern ends of town without a car.
According to data from the Connecticut Trail Census, Hamden’s portion of the trail saw 48,035 separate trips between June 21 and Dec. 31 2017.
Good maintenance is important not only to ensure a pleasant riding, walking, and jogging experience. It is also a safety issue.
The Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association received a letter from a user intending to sue the association for an injury on the trail, reported commission member Bill Horowitz, who is also a member of the association. Schaefer, who is a lawyer with Brenner, Saltzman & Wallman LLP in New Haven, called the injured party’s lawyer, and explained that the association is only an advocacy group, and has no actual authority over the trail.
When someone gets injured on the trail, Schaefer explained, they can try to sue the town of Hamden. However, a state statute prevents people from suing the town for ordinary injuries in public parks, so such claims are rarely successful.