SCARBOROUGH — Officials confirmed that the town has received enough funding to begin closing the gap in the Eastern Trail between South Portland and Scarborough.
Though the $376,000 from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System will not complete the 1.5-mile section from the Nonesuch River in Scarborough to Wainwright Athletic Complex in South Portland, it green-lights construction on a smaller segment just under a mile long from Wainwright to Pleasant Hill Road.
Construction will likely begin late this year or early in 2015.
Nearly a third of the pedestrian and bike trail, which extends 65 miles from Bug Light Park in South Portland to Kittery, is completely off-road, according to Robert Hamblen, president of the Eastern Trail Alliance. The ultimate goal is to connect the entire trail via pedestrian pathways.
The segment from Arundel to South Portland is 85 percent off-road, with the two most prominent interruptions remaining between Saco and Biddeford, and Scarborough and South Portland. The Maine Department of Transportation has studied plans to close those gaps, and determined that both require bridges.
“Both of them are expensive, but we firmly believe both will happen,” Hamblen said. “They’ve just both been laying there waiting for funding to make it possible.”
Design plans to for the final link from Pleasant Hill Road to Nonesuch are largely finalized. But because the two bridges necessary to first cross active railroad tracks and then cross the river could cost up to $3 million, funding could take another two to five years, Town Planner Dan Bacon said.
Bacon said closing this particular gap is one of the most critical issues statewide for pedestrians, and that the town will continue to seek state and federal funding to finish the project.
“From a community standpoint, Portland and South Portland are major employment centers, and the Eastern Trail has become not only recreational, but people are using it for transportation more and more,” Bacon said.
The latest approved PACTS funding is being added to money previously awarded to South Portland, Bacon said. The total needed to start construction was $530,000.
The announcement of the funding coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the installation of a bridge connecting the Eastern Trail from Black Point Road, over marshland, to Pine Point Road.
The town also recently put the finishing touches on safety projects for bikers and pedestrians using the trail, including lighting for crosswalks at both roads and a new sidewalk connecting the Eastern Trail to U.S. Route 1 along Black Point Road.
“In 10 years, a lot has been accomplished in Scarborough and other communities,” Bacon said. “It’s pretty remarkable how developed the trails have gotten over that period of time.”