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Lebanon Will Link to Rail Trail



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lebanon — City councilors on Wednesday agreed to connect a downtown portion of the Mascoma River Greenway, either by repairing the old rail tunnel that runs under the Lebanon Mall, or by creating a new path along the Mascoma River.

Cyclists and pedestrians on the rail trail would be safest on a dedicated path, one that’s not shared with vehicles on city streets, councilors said. But they refrained from deciding exactly how that will be accomplished.

The council chose three potential plans to share with city boards, which will provide input before a formal vote is taken in the months ahead. Two of those proposals would reopen the rail tunnel at a cost estimated between $2.21 million and $2.29 million, while a third would fill in the tunnel and build a new river walk for an estimated $3.5 million.

The decision to maintain connectivity on the trail was applauded by about 15 people who came to City Hall to support bicycle and pedestrian access on the Greenway, which is designed to connect downtown to West Lebanon.

”I would very much value connectivity on the Masoma Greenway. It’s a wonderful resource,” Lebanon resident Bob McLellan said.

Frank Gould, co-chairman of the Mascoma River Greenway Coalition, recounted recently seeing a father and his young children walking on a finished portion of the trail.

”He was just elated that he could get his kids out on a smooth area and get them practicing walking,” said Gould, who added the downtown connection is needed to keep families safe.

Councilors narrowed down seven options to maintain trail connectivity on Wednesday. The proposals mainly revolved around a rail tunnel that runs 300 feet from the parking lot behind River Valley Community College under Hanover Street and to an area near Route 4.

The tunnel has been closed to pedestrian and bicycle traffic since 2014, when engineers found its structure was in “poor to very poor condition.” At the same time, about 20 parking spaces above ground were cordoned off for safety reasons.

Officials have since explored potential solutions, beginning with the downtown visioning study, which sought residents’ opinions on the future of downtown Lebanon. Most of those polled during the monthslong study sought to see the tunnel reopened.

But in April 2017, the City Council entertained an alternative path proposed by Councilor Clifton Below that would build a replacement trail along the Mascoma River, under the Hanover Street bridge and to the footbridge behind Goss-Logan Insurance.

The plan would cost about $3.5 million, according to engineers with the Massachusetts-based consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin. Meanwhile, filling in the tunnel itself could cost between $1 million to $2 million, they said. Construction would take a single building season, the engineers predicted.

”We’ve been working on this for quite a while now. I’m in favor of keeping connectivity (on the trail),” Councilor Bruce Bronner said during Wednesday’s meeting.

He was supported by Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who said that any plan “that does not have a separated pathway is a deal-breaker.”

While most councilors agreed, they couldn’t settle on a path that would go through the tunnel or along the river. While a river walk could spur greater development downtown, the tunnel needs to be addressed in the near future, they said.

”We have to do something about this or the tunnel is going to collapse,” Assistant Mayor Tim McNamara said.

Councilor Jim Winny said cost also should be a factor. Every million dollars the city spends costs Lebanon taxpayers an average of $160 over 20 years, he said, citing property tax estimates for a home valued at $250,000.

”I’m not sure how much appetite there is for people to actually pay for some of these more expensive options,” Winny said. “The thing I hear about second most is ‘stop our taxes from going up.’ ”

Several city boards will next discuss options for the trail and report back to the City Council, which is expected to make a final decision in the upcoming months.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com.