The last local gap in the recreational trail along the Erie Canal will be filled in over the next few years, state officials said last week.
Construction bids for filling in the gap will be sought in October, according to Shane Mahar, deputy communications director for the state Canal Corp.
Work will begin in 2014, with a completion target date of September 2015, Mahar said.
The Canalway Trail parallels the canal, in some cases using the route of the original 19th century towpath. Today, instead of mules pulling packet boats, joggers and bicyclists fill the route in good weather.
But for many years, the idea of a nonstop path along the canal has been frustrated by an eight-mile gap between Amherst and Lockport, most of it in the Niagara County Town of Pendleton.
“There have been some issues in regard to rights of way,” said Frances Gotcsik, spokeswoman for Parks & Trails New York. “All of the issues have been worked out now.”
She said the project was expected to be built in the middle of the last decade, but a “funding reallocation” blocked it. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced last July, while riding in the annual “Cycling the Erie Canal” event, that funding had been restored for the Amherst-to-Lockport segment.
Pendleton Supervisor James A. Riester said the other major problem was the route through his town, which was supposed to use a lot of privately owned land.
“Some of the owners didn’t like the path they had,” Riester said. “Now, it will run on state property. … If they build it on state property, they can do anything they want.”
The gap begins along Tonawanda Creek Road near the Amherst Museum and extends to the foot of Prospect Street in Lockport, just west of the canal locks there.
“This will be a 10-foot-wide trail. It will be asphalt,” Gotcsik said. “There will be a pedestrian bridge over Tonawanda Creek and, at Prospect Street, directional signage to get the users to Locks 34 and 35.”
Mahar said he didn’t want to disclose the cost estimate for the job for fear of influencing the bidders for the project, but said it will cost “several million dollars.”
“Once this is done, there will be 134 miles of continuous trail from Buffalo to the Village of Lyons in Wayne County,” Gotcsik said.
“It’s going to be huge,” said David R. Kinyon, Town of Lockport economic development director and chairman of the Lockport Locks Heritage District. “The Tonawandas section of the Canalway Trail has been identified as having the highest utilization of any section of the Canalway Trail in the state. We want to open up access to the Lockport market for those hikers and bikers.”
Mahar said more than three-quarters of what is supposed to be a 361-mile trail from Buffalo to Albany has been completed.
There are five other gaps in the trail. Seven miles are under construction – six miles between Newark and Lyons and one mile in Little Falls – with completion expected this year.