In 2006 the County of Westchester was awarded a grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to enhance the Playland Parkway Walking and Bikeway Trail.
By Bill Lawyer
In 2006 the County of Westchester was awarded a grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to enhance the Playland Parkway Walking and Bikeway Trail. The grant, administered by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYDOT), was for 80% of the project’s $2 million budget.
That same year, the County Planning Department started the lengthy process of developing all the details required to meet the state and federal government’s standards for such a project. This included passing a bond act to cover the County’s share of the cost.
It’s now 2015, and the County is still “developing all the details.”
A major milestone occurred in February 2012, when the WCPD held a public forum to hear and consider comments from members of the public regarding planned improvements.
The County and consulting landscape architect Alex Berryman presented a 42-page document, complete with maps, illustrations and design graphics.
That document is still available online at http://planning.westchestergov.com. The highlights included construction of a path that would run from the Old Post Road to the Boston Post Road. This would be built on Westchester County right-of-way land.
The proposal would also widen and re-grade the existing Parkway path from North Street to Playland from 4 to 8 feet. Lastly, the County Planning Department and Berryman proposed adding amenities such as benches and a separate bike/pedestrian bridge over Blind Brook.
The plan was backed by representatives from the various Rye community organizations that are involved in traffic safety, the promotion of walking and biking alternatives, and safe routes to school. Their primary hope was that the project got underway as soon as possible.
County Planning coordinator Robert Lopane explained that after the public hearing the proposal would be submitted to the NYDOT. If all went well, he thought construction could start in the spring of 2013.
Fast forward to March 2013. Having heard nothing further about the project, The Rye Record contacted Lopane for a status report. He said that over the past year he had gone “back and forth” numerous times with NYDOT. Design details had been clarified, making the project complinat with the state’s “smart growth” requirements, and two archaeological evaluations were carried out. Lopane estimated it would be several months before the required final public hearing date and arrangements were announced.
Fast forward to 2014. Still no news. The Rye Record again contacted Lopane, who acknowledged “nothing has happened since last year.” He told us that the only contact he had with NYDOT had been regarding one or two minor wording changes in the proposal. No date had been set for the final public hearing. New York DOT official Ed Goff would only say, “We are working with Westchester County Planning on finalizing the design report.”
Fast forward to 2015. Still no work started. But things have been happening over the past year. County Planning has put together a timeline to highlight the extent of bureaucratic Ping-Pong that the seemingly straightforward project has entailed. County Legislator Catherine Parker has requested that the project be given high priority.
Meanwhile, Phillip Oliva, senior advisor to the County Executive, informed us that, “Every time we responded to the DOT and FHWA requests, they sent us more requests.”
For example, the FHWA and NYSDOT have now required the County to upgrade all the sidewalks from the train station to the start of the path.
Patrick Natarelli, chief planner at County Planning, expressed his frustration in a letter to DOT official Goff: “Due to the proximity and amount of development on properties along a good portion of the proposed route, acquiring ROW for widening the sidewalk will be overly burdensome, time-consuming, and could lead to condemnation proceedings that would be protracted, costly, and counter-productive to completing the project in a reasonable time and at a justifiable cost.”
Other requests included a report on the number of trees to be impacted, listing the wildlife impacted, and the impact of part of the path being in the floodplain.
Lopane summed the situation up: “Their requests require months of work, but they then take months to let us know the status of our proposal.”