BERLIN — It’s been a long time coming and there is still more money to raise, but plans to construct a short but expensive section of the Cross Vermont Trail just received another financial boost from Berlin.
Nearly three years after pledging $3,000 to the Cross Vermont Trail Association’s “keystone project,” the Select Board has agreed to chip in another $15,000.
That’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to the $1.6 million price tag of a project that contemplates constructing more than two miles of off-road bike path along the Route 2 corridor and a 200-foot bridge across the Winooski River.
However, for an organization that was within $36,000 of the $250,000 it needs to raise to leverage nearly $1.3 million in previously approved federal funding it is a significant contribution.
Greg Western, the association’s executive director, acknowledged as much during a Thursday night meeting that saw the Select Board vote to free up additional money from the bike path fund it tapped three years ago when asked to contribute $3,000.
The fund was established years ago for a bike path project that has long-since stalled due to right-of-way issues with the local railroad that may never be resolved and may never need to be given the subsequent addition of buffered bike lanes along the Barre-Montpelier Road that serve the same purpose.
“It’s a way to turn some of that money into an actual bike path,” Western said, noting while progress has been slow, it has also been steady since he last approached Berlin for funding.
At the time, the association still needed to raise $97,000 to meet its local match. Thanks the Berlin’s earlier contribution, and voter-approved appropriations in Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex, Worcester and Plainfield, and other donations the funding gap had been whittled to $36,000 when Thursday’s meeting began and stood at $21,000 before it ended.
Acting on the recommendation of the town’s conservation committee, the board agreed to appropriate an additional $15,000 for the project.
Phil Gentile, the committee’s chairman, said members debated how much money to suggest be funneled to the Cross Vermont Trail project. With more than $50,000 in the bike path in the bike path fund, Gentile said the committee considered recommending as much as $25,000 before agreeing $15,000 would provide a meaningful jolt to what it viewed as a promising project while retaining roughly $40,000 in the bike path fund.
“It’s significant, but we’re not shooting the whole ball of wax,” he said.
Western said Berlin quintupling down on its prior commitment could attract additional donors eager to advance a project the association has viewed as a key component of a much larger statewide trail that will span 90 miles and run between Burlington and Wells river since 1994.
The central Vermont portion of the project — including the costly bridge — has been a priority since 2005 when the association began lining up federal support. Nine years and nearly $1.3 million in commitments later, the association kicked off its “Build the Bridge” campaign, which Western told the Berlin board is in its final stages.
“We’re in the end game,” he said, noting the design work is done, most permits have been obtained and Act 250 approval was in the works.
Western said the proposed bridge, which would span the Winooski River using abutments from an old railroad bridge near Champlain Valley Equipment on Route 2 is the most expensive component of the project and predicted that cost could climb given recently enacted steel tariffs.
Half the proposed bridge is in Berlin, while the other half is in East Montpelier.
Once completed, the bridge would provide access to the trail network on the hillside leading up to U-32 Middle and High School. The section of trail would also link to the bike path Montpelier just extended to the base of nearby Gallison Hill Road.
With Montpelier now wrapping up work on that bike path extension and Berlin’s latest contribution, Western said he is hopeful the last of the local match wouldn’t take long to raise.
The project contemplates constructing a path that runs up to U-32’s existing trail network and out to the Central Vermont Civic Center on the west side of the proposed bridge while running creating an off-road connection between Routes 2 and 14 on the east side.
The project will require constructing a 600-foot trestle bridge or retaining wall to reach the bridge along a section of Route 2 that runs too close to the river to safely accommodate a trail.