GREENWICH — In a race to secure about $270,000 in state funds, local officials are seeking last-minute town approval for a multiuse path connecting Stamford and Greenwich along the East Coast Greenway.
In May, the Connecticut Recreational Trails Program awarded $270,400 for the planning and design of a biking and walking path between Boccuzzi Park in Stamford and Binney Park in Old Greenwich. The project would serve as an upgrade to a roughly 2-mile section of the East Coast Greenway, a path connecting 15 states from Maine to Florida.
But in order to guarantee the grant, Greenwich needs the 230-member Representative Town Meeting to approve the funding at its Dec. 11 meeting. Without its stamp of approval, one official said, Greenwich and Stamford may have to return the funds to the state.
On Monday, Greenwich’s Department of Public Works Deputy Commissioner Jim Michel told CT Examiner that the rush for approval began in September, when the state announced Greenwich needed to finalize the grant within two weeks.
Michel said the town pushed back on the deadline and were instead given two months to secure approval from the RTM.
“We reached out to them and explained to them the internal process that we needed to follow, and explained to them that it would be a couple months’ timeframe to get through that process,” Michel said.
But if the RTM chooses to reject the proposal next month, Michel said, the future of the multiuse path would be unclear.
“We’d basically be giving the money back, and then we would make a determination on what our next steps are. Is it something we’d want to pursue in the future?” he said.
Undetermined location, input
At a Monday meeting of the Greenwich Active Transportation Task Force, several members said they worry the RTM may reject the grant application, as many of the project details are still unknown, including the exact location of the path.
The current route connecting Boccuzzi Park to Binney Park, according to an East Coast Greenway map, is an unpaved path along Fairfield Avenue, through Shore Road and up Sound Beach Avenue. As described in the grant application, the new 8- to 10-foot-wide, off-road, paved trail would follow a similar route.
However, since Greenwich and Stamford have not yet conducted a study of the project area or finalized the path’s design, the proposed location remains uncertain.
“Obviously, we don’t have a consultant who’s going to tell us or show us what the feasibility is of alternate routes prior to the RTM vote — which, as we all know, if the RTM says no, the project dies,” task force member Vince DiMarco said.
DiMarco said the task force faces a tight two-week timeline to distribute project information to residents and RTM members and garner support, which may prove difficult given the lack of details.
“We need to put information out. How are we going to do that?” he said. “That’s really what it comes down to right now. We need to get the positive vote in the RTM. We need to make people comfortable about this.”
Michel, who is also a task force member, suggested that transportation officials explain the general proposal to the RTM, and that the grant application allows the municipalities to explore alternate routes.
Task force member Victoria Martin Young said she has heard concerns about insufficient public input on the path and its location ahead of the RTM meeting.
“I’m on the board of the Old Greenwich Association, and we had a request to have a hearing before the Dec. 11 meeting,” she said.
Martin Young said the task force should clarify to the RTM that no specific route has been chosen, and that there will be opportunities for public input in the coming months.
“If people see one route and think that that’s already been predetermined, I think it may create issues based on the feedback I’ve already gotten,” she said.
As long as the RTM approves the funding, Michel told the task force, the next steps would be to sign the agreement with the state, select a consultant, start the design process and schedule public hearings. He estimated the hearings could take place anywhere from late spring to early fall in 2024.
When asked about why the responsibility for getting approval rests on Greenwich, Michel told CT Examiner that approximately 73 percent of the proposed path is situated within Greenwich. Since the state grant covers only 80 percent of the planning and design expenses, he explained, the town will be responsible for the majority of the remaining costs.
Stamford Transportation Bureau Chief Frank Petise told CT Examiner on Monday that the city has completed all its requirements for the project and is now awaiting Greenwich RTM approval.
Petise said he’s confident that the town’s project team can secure the funding.
“We’re excited to get underway and get it going, and we’re happy to have a partnership with another municipality to increase the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure,” he said.
Petise and Michel said they hope a paved multiuse path will enhance the connection between the municipalities and encourage other Fairfield County towns to improve their infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians.