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NEWS STAFF REPORTER

A proposal to build a recreational trail along an old rail path finally is on track in northern Erie County, but the clock is ticking to meet certain deadlines before the money to pay for it disappears.

Tonawanda Rails to Trails would run along approximately four miles of unused railroad right-of-way from Kenmore Avenue – between North Parker and Fairfield avenues in the Town of Tonawanda – to State Street in the City of Tonawanda.

Federal funding will cover 80 percent of the estimated $2 million cost. Erie County, the project’s sponsor, still needs to allocate its 20 percent share and the Town of Tonawanda will be responsible for maintenance. The old tracks already have been removed.

But before Erie County can secure the rights of way for the land, it must get public comment on the route and its potential social, economic and environmental effects.

Toward that end, two open houses are scheduled for next week: The first is 6 to 9 p.m. Monday in the community room of Tonawanda City Hall, 200 Niagara St.; and the second, also from 6 to 9 p.m., is Wednesday in Council Chambers in the Ken-Ton municipal building, 2919 Delaware Ave.

“It’s a great quality of life project for the town,” said Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana. “We are just excited to see it’s gotten this far.”

The project was held up for years by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which owns the property and had envisioned expanding its Metro Rail service. In 2011, the NFTA agreed to negotiate a 10-year irrevocable lease with an option to extend it for another 10 years.

“All the NFTA agreed to was they would negotiate with us for a lease,” said Brian Rose, senior project manager with Erie County’s Department of Public Works. “We can’t negotiate with them until after we get design approval.”

And design approval, targeted for May 1, can’t be obtained without the public input.

The project won’t affect any private property, according to Rose.

Some rights of way may be needed from the municipalities for trail access, Rose said. Securing at least some of them is needed to meet a September deadline tied to the federal funds.

“It doesn’t matter what right of way we acquire or how much – we just have to have some in hand,” Rose said.

Then, construction must be under way by September 2014, when the funding from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program expires. “We want to be well along in construction by the end of September next year,” Rose said.

That program was implemented to support surface transportation projects and other related efforts that contribute air quality improvements and provide congestion relief.