2017-08-27 / Front Page

Saco seeks funding to extend RiverWalk

Staff Writer

SACO —  The city of Saco is seeking money from the Maine Department of Transportation under the MaineDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program to fund two pedestrian projects that would extend the RiverWalk urban trail network.

The RiverWalk is a pedestrian trail network along the Saco River in Saco and Biddeford.

The city is hoping to receive funding toward a pedestrian and bicycle route beneath the northern end of the Main Street bridge that would connect the east and west sides of Saco Island.

The city would also like to get funding to install an overlook over the Saco River along an existing section of the RiverWalk trail on the west side of the island and reduce the grade of the trail in this segment to conform to ADA specifications.

The estimated cost of the first project is $670,000 and the estimated cost of the second is $604,000. The city has applied for funding from MaineDot, which, if approved, would cover up to 80 percent per project, not to exceed $400,000. The city is also seeking money from Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System for the proposed projects.

Biddeford City Manager Jim Bennett has endorsed the project, and in a letter included with the application for funding he wrote that during discussions about traffic and infrastructure between the two cities it became clear that there is a desire for the completion of the RiverWalk trail.

“We are pleased to give our sister City of Saco our hearty and full support of their applications for the next phases of this effort creating a pedestrian-bicycle way extending the RiverWalk beneath the Main Street Bridge and connecting the east and west sides of Saco Island,” he wrote.

The city has also received several letters from area organizations in support of the proposal.

The City Council discussed the proposed projects on Monday.

The proposal for the connector from the west side to the east side of the island is contingent on a proposed project on the east side by developer Bernie Saulnier.

The nearly six acres of the island on the east side of Main Street is undeveloped, and Saulnier has plans for a mixed-use development that would include public access along the river around the perimeter of the property.

Councilor David Precourt, the only councilor who didn’t vote in favor of the city’s application efforts, said there had been discussions for years on developing the eastern side of Saco Island, and it’s remained vacant.

Councilor Eric Cote, though he did vote for the city’s efforts to seek funding, noted that if the Saulnier’s proposed development didn’t happen, the city could be wasting its money pursuing the pedestrian project.

Economic Development Director William Mann said there has been an increase of interest recently in the downtown, and he said he was optimistic development would take place on the island, even if it wasn’t the plan currently on the table.

Mayor Ron Michaud concurred.

“It’s not going to sit there forever,” he said.

Councilor Kevin Roche said though it was a bit of a “leap of faith” that development would happen on the east side, he approved of the project. He said if a path was created around the eastern Side of the island, it would be a less of an incline for bicycling than Main Street, and it would be nice to extend the RiverWalk from the west side of the island, which is accessible from Biddeford by a pedestrian bridge.

“What we’ve got right now is a bridge to nowhere,” he said.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com.

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