Ambitious urban railway project arrives in Poughkeepsie

New York City has the Highline. Atlanta has the BeltLine. Now Poughkeepsie could join this contingent of old railways turned into greenways with a new initiative to create their own urban rail trail project.

Construction will begin in early 2022 to renovate 19th-century railway lines and old tracks to deliver coal to supply the Hudson River State Hospital in a redesigned cycle and pedestrian corridor for residents of Poughkeepsie .

The CSX rail corridor, which has remained inactive since the hospital closed in the 1990s, will be converted into Dutchess County Urban Trail. The ambitious project is the result of a partnership between Scenic Hudson and Dutchess County.

“These rail to trail projects [are] transforming the country in so many ways, ”said Seth McKee, Executive Director of Scenic Hudson Land Trust and Land Programs. “There are a lot of abandoned rail lines all over the country that are being converted to walking and cycling trails. It has been great for the local economies and the quality of life.

Unlike the Highline, another popular urban trail that follows the route of an old Manhattan railroad, the Dutchess County Urban Trail will connect residents from one part of the city to another and will be open 24/7. / 7, with lights on after sunset. In this approach, it looks more like Atlanta’s BeltLine, which is one of the larger city trails and also uses an old rail corridor for multi-use purposes to connect different parts of the city without a car.

This is not the first Dutchess County railroad project. The Harlem Valley Rail Trail was built in the mid-1990s, and the 13.4-mile William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail followed a decade later. The Dutchess County Urban Trail joins 67 other rail trail projects in New York State, where there are currently 122 total rail trails, a small percentage of the nearly 2,300 rail trails across the United States.

At Poughkeepsie, the planned 2.7-mile urban rail trail will be shaped like a triangle, connecting the town and town of North Road to Fulton Street, where pedestrians can then choose to go either south-west by towards the waterfront or south towards Dutchess County Justice and Transition Center.

In mid-December, the Dutchess County Legislature authorized an $ 11.1 million bond to build the first of four phases of the project. Robert Balkind, commissioner of the Dutchess County Public Works Department, said bids would be launched for construction of the project within a week or two, with a schedule that calls for the completion of the first phase by end of 2022.

“It is indeed an urban trail,” Balkind said. “This trail, unlike our other trails, is really in the heart of the most densely populated part of our county. There are a lot of businesses and residents so we know this will be a popular trail once it opens.

Scenic Hudson began negotiations with CSX in 2016 to purchase the decommissioned railroads, then transferred the acquired land to Dutchess County with a stipulation that it would become a recreational and non-motorized transportation corridor.

Beginning in 2020, Dutchess County hired a consulting firm to begin studies and conduct feasibility studies and design plans for the trail. The county has held meetings with civic groups and other public information meetings to solicit public input on the early stages of planning.

Benefits of an urban rail trail

The trail route, estimated to be 2.7 miles in length, connects many valuable community assets within the Town and Town of Poughkeepsie.

Dutchess County

“Due to the urban nature of this path, we expect people to use it not only for recreation, but also as a means of transportation,” Balkind said. “We believe people will get to work using this path, get to their doctor, and more.”

The trail will simultaneously function as a greenway – an open park – and stimulate local foot traffic and cycling.

Once the trail is completed, residents and students of Marist College will be able to walk or cycle to the still-developing Hudson Heritage Live Work Community, Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital, Health Campus Mental District of Dutchess, the Poughkeepsie Waterfront and the William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail. The trail will also connect to the Gateway over the Hudson and could become a tourist destination that will take visitors to new areas of the city and create economic benefits.

Keeping pedestrians and cyclists away from vehicles is an added safety benefit of the Rail Trail, which has been designed to be easily accessible by first responders.

The trail will also increase accessibility for those who do not have a vehicle.

“We need to extend the benefits of this trail to the north side of Poughkeepsie,” McKee said. “The north side of Poughkeepsie has a very high poverty rate and residents who do not have access to a car. There is a fabulous opportunity to create safe transport routes for bicycles and pedestrians to get around without the need for a car.

The four-phase trail

The urban trail will have two cross sections, including a shared use trail and a shared use trail, each varying in width and design. In the split-use approach, which governs the first phase of the design, 10 feet of bike lanes will be separated from an 8-foot walking zone by a generous divider. The following sections will be built using a shared use path approach and will include a 16 foot wide shared path through a more limited space.

“We wanted to make it wide enough that it wouldn’t look too crowded or deter people from wanting to use it,” Balkind said of the trail design. “With COVID over the past two years, we’ve all seen how extremely important parks and open spaces are for people to be able to get out and enjoy the outdoors, exercise and be socially distant.”

The second phase will feature a one-mile corridor from Kittredge Place to Fulton Street, passing next to Marist College. A quarter mile trail connecting Parker Avenue to Hamilton Street will be the third phase. And the final phase will include signage on the streets of North Hamilton Street to Smith Street to connect the trail to other parts of the city via existing sidewalks. Although construction estimates are not yet available for the next three phases, Dutchess County officials say the entire project could be completed in 2024 at the earliest.

Balkin said it would also be possible to create small city parks next to the trail, where public art installations are also planned.

“We believe this will transform the lives of people who live near the trail to give them access to recreation and transportation that they would not otherwise have,” said Balkind.

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