Clearing the trail Akron residents pack meeting as council trims linear park project costs

By on September 25, 2013

By:

JAMES MCGINNIS Review Correspondent

, Staff Writer

A group of about 50 residents, including members of Boy Scout troop 57, packed the Akron borough building on Monday night to show their support for the proposed rail trail that would bisect the north side of town and eventually connect the Ephrata Linear Park with the Lititz-Warwick Trailway.

Four local municipalities; Ephrata, Akron and Ephrata and Warwick townships, have been planning to build the greenway, which will be known as the Warwick-Ephrata Rail Trail, along an abandoned Reading Railroad line for several years. Although Ephrata, Akron and Ephrata Township had anticipated beginning work on Phase I, which would extend from the southern terminus of the Ephrata Linear Park off Pointview Ave. southwest to Main Street in Akron, this fall, the municipalities were forced to move the project back after bids for several features, including lighting, retaining walls and disposal of dirt and rocks displaced from this work, came in higher than expected.

Akron Borough Manager Dan Guers suggested that the council consider several cost-cutting moves. These included eliminating the retaining walls, using conventional incandescent bulbs in the "shoebox" light fixtures that will line the town’s segment of the trail instead of LED’s, and possibly eliminating or scaling back a few other proposed features, including a "welcome area" off Fulton Street, building a grade-level crossing at Main Street instead of a concrete, culvert tunnel and adopting a "carry-in, carry-out" policy for trash disposal.

Residents attending the meeting responded positively to the council’s insistence that the delays in the project are only temporary. While suggestions that retaining walls be eliminated and conventional lighting that would be connected to the power grid were generally met with positive response, attendees responded much less favorably to proposals to fill in the ravine between Fulton and Main streets and construct ramps to carry the trail up to a grade-level crossing at Main Street, and eliminate trash cans and the "welcome area."

Resident Donald Reese, a former member of the steering committee that oversaw the planning phases of the Akron portion of the trail, and whose property adjoins the ravine east of Main Street, voiced concerns that constructing ramps could cause unforeseen problems with drainage. He also noted that the new slopes could be hazardous since cyclists riding east from Main Street would accelerate as they approached the welcome area and grade-level crossing at Fulton Street.

"We property owners don’t want to end up with problems just to cut costs," Reese said. "Ephrata has a wonderful trail and I want Akron’s to be just as good."

Another local resident, Don Wolf, voiced similar concerns and agreed that tunneling under Main Street would be a better option than sloping the trail up to a grade-level crossing.

"When they filled in Main Street after the railroad was abandoned, they got rid of the drainage," he noted. "You always have water in that ravine as a result. I’m concerned it would end up costing more to fill in the ravine than it would to make drainage improvements and build the tunnel."

Wolf added that it would be much safer for trail users to pass under the street than cross at grade-level.

"We have a golden opportunity to get people off the road," he said. "Let’s not squander it."

Attendees were nearly unanimous in favoring the construction of a tunnel over a grade-level crossing and lighting the trail when councilman Terry Reber asked for a show of hands for each option.

"Of those people who said they favor building the tunnel and installing the lights, how many would still support it if they had to pay an extra $10 in taxes per year?," Reber asked next. Nearly all attendees again raised their hands.

Attendees also voiced agreement with councilman Thomas Murray’s description of lighting on the Ephrata Linear Park as "one of the best features" of that trail.

Murray said that he often only gets to walk after dark and said that he is grateful for the lights on the Ephrata trail, which he hikes at least twice a week. Murray added that he looks forward to using the trail to walk from his house on Vista Drive to the Ephrata Fair and parade next year.

"It’s too late for this year, but I envision using the trail to get all the way to downtown Ephrata and back without having to sit in the parade traffic next year," he said.

The council ended up voting to eliminate the retaining walls, which engineers said were not necessary, use borough-owned lighting provided by PP&L and keeping the plans to install trash receptacles and build the "welcome area," which borough manager Dan Guers described as a small "pocket park" with benches and picnic tables that would be part of a trailhead and six-space parking lot located at the crossing on Fulton Street.

"I think we need the parking and I support having a rest area," Reber said.

Other features will include wooden rail fencing, which will be constructed between the trail and some properties, and plastic "mutt mitts" for disposal of dog waste.

Guers estimated that the council saved $102,000 by eliminating the retaining walls and using conventional lighting, bringing projected costs for Phase I down to $224,300. However, council deferred a decision over whether to build a tunnel or at-grade crossing at Main Street until bids for Phase 2 come in later this fall..

The portion of the trail from Main Street west to Millway Road in Ephrata Township is part of Phase 2 of the trail, also known as "Akron West." Although the borough and Ephrata Township originally planned to construct this segment of the trail separately from Phase I, Guers said it is likely that both will now be built at the same time next spring and summer.

Guers said that the borough needs to send the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources a letter asking for a year-long extension for the project and put out new bids, which should be done before the end of the year.

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