Bike path remains closed for 2nd summer, regional plan years away

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Millions of dollars have been and will be spent on trying to create a regional bike path.

The 22News I-Team discovered why connecting it is so difficult and why a major section has been closed for more than a year.

Riding along the Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway, you hit a road block--and planners have been hitting similar road blocks trying to find ways to make this a regional bike path.

Connecting Agawam to Holyoke with a bike path along the Connecticut River has been a regional plan for more than a decade.  It's one that is still years away from happening, if ever.

“It's a very long term vision for the entire Connecticut River Valley and there are currently no design projects that have been funded for a phase north or a phase south for a connection,” said Lee Pouliot, Chicopee’s city planner.

The puzzle pieces are starting to come together.  Projects are underway in Agawam, Holyoke, West Springfield and Chicopee.  Finding ways to link these individual bike paths, however, has been difficult.

“We need to think outside the box when you think of creative solutions for crossing those rivers,” said Jeff McCollough, senior transportation planner for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

The longest stretch of bike path that is finished is in Springfield.  It’s 3.7 miles, but when you get to Riverfront Park, it's closed and has been for more than a year.

“The bike path had to be closed to allow us to proceed with the construction, we have a unique situation with this site the fact that we're squeezed between the river and an active railroad line nearby,” said Bill Fuqua, director of wastewater operations for the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission.

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission is fixing two massive pipes that if left untouched, could have caused a disaster.

“The failure of either one of these pipes would have caused erosion of the riverbank and potentially of the bikeway and in worst case the railroad right of way as well if left unchecked,” said Fuqua.

Due to weather issues, this project has faced several delays, which has set the project back by several months.  The Water and Sewer Commission hopes to begin fixing the bike path in September and to re-open the closed section in October.  Chicopee's city planner is confident their bike path will be completed by 2020, but you won't be able to go from one city to the other without getting on the street.

“Challenging just from a where do we have space to do this or do we consider re-routing onto streets and doing more traditional bike paths,” Pouliot said.

Pouliot told 22News it takes about three to five years from design to construction.  McCullough says he's hopeful the vision of a regional path can be completed in another 10 years.

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