Editorial: Railing about the trail

More than a dozen Plainville residents descended upon their town meeting last Monday to voice opposition to the town’s plan to close the gap in the Plainville-Southington section of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.

It’s a sign that Plainville is getting closer and closer to finishing their section of a trail that links New Haven to Northampton, Mass. before linking to a larger trail system which stretches from Harvard to Yale. Where’s the biggest gap in that journey? You guessed it. Southington and Plainville.

Plainville has been working on closing their gap for years. It’s understandable since there’s an active train line that has caused town officials to consider alternatives, but this shows that they’re getting close to a solution.

A few years ago, it was a hot topic. Last year, they commissioned a study which presented four different route options at a meeting last May. The proposed route was chosen because it is the least costly option, while still providing a route that was mostly off town streets. Those were the main request from the community survey, and now they’re discussing the findings.

The Plainville section has some challenges, such as a box culvert under Route 72 and a series of side paths to keep trail users away from road traffic, but the route has been largely accepted as a reasonable solution. The protests are coming from a neighborhood on Perron Road and residents worried about the section through Tomasso Nature Park. Both will likely be resolved.

Perron Road residents said they fear they will no longer live on a quiet street, but several trail studies, conducted by various states, the National Parks, and the Rail to Trails Conservancy have shown these fears to be largely unfounded. The majority of studies indicate that crime is reduced along these paths, while property values either increase or have no effect. Studies have shown that quality of life in trail neighborhoods has been improved—and in cases like Southington where the railway was previously abandoned—there is a very noticeable improvement to neighborhoods.

Plainville’s biggest challenge will be reaching a compromise in Tomasso Nature Park, where opponents feel that the trail could disrupt the wildlife. The main complaints were garbage on the trail, and the fact that dogs and bikes aren’t currently allowed in the park but are frequently found on trails.

These all sound like solvable problems and signal that Plainville might be coming closer to breaking ground on their section, leaving the Southington section as the only missing link in the chain. How can a town who’s motto is “The City of Progress” possibly think this is a path to progress?

For more than a decade The Observer has been saying that the Southington section—specifically the section from Hart Street to the Plainville border—should be high on the town’s “to do” list. We think that Plainville’s recent activity should motivate Southington officials to step up their conversations. After all, anybody that’s swerved to miss a pedestrian near Oak Hill Cemetery knows that this is a big public safety issue.

Southington’s rail-trail offers a pedestrian path from Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike to Plantsville Center to the center of town, but there’s no link to Queen Street—the town’s biggest retail center? There aren’t sidewalk, paths, or trails. That can’t be safe or in anybody’s best interest.

Perhaps this is the time to finally start a public conversation about a timetable? If not now, when?

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