The notion that the City of Buffalo might be intending to use federal money to enhance and extend an existing trail path a mere 1,600 feet is shortsighted. Buffalo could wind up missing out on the economic benefits that following through with an original plan could bring.

As reported, the discussion for years has centered on building 2.6 miles of trail along a former railroad bed in a Y-shaped formation through North Buffalo and connecting to a planned trail in the Tonawandas.

Federal funding for the path is set to expire soon and critics of the city’s new plan for the undeveloped green space just north of Shoshone Park say it strays too far from the original version.

The implication is that a short amount of tract gets done, or nothing else. Neighborhood groups are even split, with some supporting the extension of city-owned Minnesota Linear Park to Kenmore Avenue, while others want the longer trails on a wooded right of way owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. Others want to see progress on a project that dates back to the early 1990s.

And, of course, before time runs out.

There is $1.2 million, allocated in 2001, at stake for the greenway if the city doesn’t have a plan in place by the end of September. Meantime, city officials say that their plan could be the first part of a multiphase project. That’s not exactly decisive.

The money originated from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. A 2005 draft proposal by Buffalo’s Watts Architecture and Engineering has already cost $194,000. That proposal looked at the feasibility of 2.6 miles in an area where a portion of the land between Colvin and Starin was sold off and became the Colvin Estates housing subdivision, which reduced by half the amount of land available for the trail. There is suspicion by trail advocates that the rails-to-trails project stalled because the land is again being considered for future housing development. That would be unfortunate because there are examples of development and public green space working to the benefit of both.

The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath caught the attention of Lyndhurst-based First Interstate Properties, which bought an old steel mill site and developed it into a large shopping and retail complex, called Steelyard Commons, in Cuyahoga County. It is a $120 million commercial redevelopment project.

The developer spent about $1 million and built nearly one mile of the planned Towpath Trail extension to downtown in two separate pathways through the development. First Interstate Properties also pledged to support plans to extend the 51-mile Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad excursion to downtown.

An extensive trail benefits residents with free, healthy living in the ability to walk or bike in a safe and accessible manner.

It also becomes a tourist destination whose economic value can be seen in the Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., journey – the Great Allegheny Passage, which runs 150 miles through the heart of Pennsylvania, from the outskirts of Pittsburgh to Cumberland Maryland and connects to the 185-mile-long C&O Canal Trail.

The Great Allegheny Passage alone hosts more than 800,000 trips a year and generates more than $40 million in direct annual spending and another $7.5 million in wages from trail-related businesses. It shows what can happen here in connecting a city trail formed in North Buffalo to a planned trail in the Tonawandas.

It’s time to quit the foot-dragging and commit fully to the trails project.