August 7, 2011

Blazing a trail

Mile by mile, bridge by bridge, Eastern Trail supporters are closing in on their goal.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

In 1997, all John Andrews wanted his Saco Bay Trails volunteers to build was a trail from Scarborough to Saco -- a pathway through three towns.

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Dan Stewart, MDOT bicycle and pedestrian program manager; Bob Hamblen, president of the Eastern Trail Alliance; Ben Doty, an intern for Stewart; and Bob LaNigra, vice president of the alliance and trustee of the Eastern Trail Management District, start a 15-mile ride near the new bridge over I-95.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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“Use was immediate,” said Bruce Gullifer, Scarborough’s community services director, referring to an Eastern Trail bridge over the Scarborough Marsh.

Additional Photos Below

MILES BUILT THROUGH 2011

SOUTH PORTLAND: 5.7 miles

SCARBOROUGH NONESUCH RIVER: 0.8 miles

SCARBOROUGH MARSH: 2.1 miles

SCARBOROUGH TO OLD ORCHARD BEACH: 1.6 miles

OLD ORCHARD BEACH TO SACO: 4.3 miles

BIDDEFORD TO KENNEBUNK AND ARUNDEL: 6.2 miles

TOTAL: 20.7 miles

MONEY SPENT

FEDERAL DEDICATED FUNDING: $6.9 million

MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY (FOR BRIDGE): $1.5 million

LOCAL FUNDING FROM TOWNS: $1.1 million

VOTER-APPROVED BIKE-PED BONDS: $600,00

PRIVATE: $60,000

TOTAL TO DATE: $10,160,000

A town officer told him he'd never get a bridge over Route 1, and support for the trail seemed minimal.

"Most of the people at that meeting are now dead," Andrews said. "This December, it will be 14 years since we started."

In December, Andrews and people from eight towns will celebrate the 21 miles of linear off-road bicycle and pedestrian trail they've built between South Portland and Kennebunk -- and the opening of not only the Eastern Trail's bridge over Route 1 but also another spanning the width of Interstate 95.

"All I had was the vision," Andrews said. "The thing just exploded."

In recent years, the vision of an off-road trail running the length of southern Maine has come closer to a reality as others have joined and worked alongside Andrews on the Eastern Trail.

This year, with an unprecedented number of off-road miles built on the unique path, those involved say there's no stopping now.

'HE KEPT AT IT'

The Eastern Trail Alliance was incorporated in 1999 with the goal of building a 55-mile off-road trail from Kittery to Casco Bay. It started with Andrews, but others in towns along the trail soon joined and stayed on.

"The fact is when I walked into city hall 11 years ago and met John, the guy came on like a load of bricks. I held him at arm's length and said, 'Good luck on your trail,'" said Bob Hamblen, Saco's city planner. "He kept at it. And it still took me a few years, but at this point I've been bitten."

Now Hamblen puts in eight hours a week on the trail. Five years ago, he said progress on the trail was unlikely to move fast. Today Hamblen is getting ready to celebrate one of the Eastern Trail's biggest showpieces: a bridge over busy Route 1, paid for with the help of a $500,000 bond approved by his town's voters in 2007.

"It will be a billboard," Hamblen said proudly.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Trail bridge over I-95 that will open soon will have all the power of social media. It may be used daily only by cyclists in Kennebunk, Arundel and Biddeford, but it will be seen by thousands of motorists, commuters and tourists coming to Maine.

"In many ways, it was a psychological barrier to all the people involved. The turnpike was more than a simple bridge," said Tad Redway, Arundel's town planner. "I'm very encouraged we've gotten as far as we have. There have been a lot of problem areas. But now we have people looking to hold marathons on the thing."

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

When Dan Stewart took over as the bike and pedestrian coordinator at the Maine Department of Transportation six years ago, only a few miles of the trail had been built across the Scarborough Marsh. Some $10 million later, there will be 21 miles completed by the end of this year -- with nearly a fourth of it is getting built in 2011.

"This is most likely the best year, if not the best year, for the ET for any trail in Maine," Stewart said. "I think that's amazing that one of the most populated areas with the highest density of cities is going to be connected with an off-road, safe bike-ped trail."

While the 2011 projects were funded in past years, these new sections will open in the coming months:

South Portland will extend its trail at Wainwright Field Sports Complex to the Scarborough line, a $200,000 project to finish paving 0.3 miles.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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From left, Tom Daley, founder and trustee for Scarborough Eastern Trail Alliance; Stewart; John Andrews, retired president and founder of the Eastern Trail Alliance; and Hamblen pause to celebrate after crossing the bridge over the Scarborough Marsh.

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A rail is lowered into place as work on the Eastern Trail bridge over I-95 continues.

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Bill and Joanna Vining, workers for CPM Constructors, Freeport, mark a rail for drilling to attach it to the bridge over I-95 at Kennebunk.



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