City one step closer to completing canal project

In addition to chemistry section, Yalies will soon have one more reason to run up Science Hill.

The city of New Haven recently completed a quarter-mile section of an ambitious project to redevelop the old Farmington Canal into a multi-use greenway for recreation and transportation. After construction began this summer, the city finds itself one step closer to completing its plan to replace the old canal and rail line with a trail for walkers, runners and cyclists.

Since the 1980s, the Farmington Rails-to-Trails Association has been working to change the canal into a recreational path. The canal begins in Farmington, Mass., and ends in New Haven.

The development proposal has been on hold for a number of years and progress has been slow. The city obtained most of the land for the project eight years ago, but funding difficulties and design complications slowed development.

“We believe the Farmington Canal Rails-to-Trails project will be a good addition to New Haven and the many recreational amenities it enjoys,” said Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs.

The canal passes through the Yale campus on a diagonal, running under the intersection of Trumbull and Prospect streets, then under Hillhouse Avenue to Leet Oliver Memorial Hall and University Health Services.

Grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection and a shared T21 Federal Highway Grant with the town of Hamden helped to expedite the project to see it through to its current state. However, a lot of work — and spending — has yet to be done.

New Haven City Plan Department official David Barone estimated last spring that converting all of New Haven’s section of the canal to a greenway would cost more than $5 million. The cost of this summer’s construction was roughly $550,000.

Michael Piscitelli, the City Plan Department’s director of comprehensive planning, said the city is committed to building the trail all the way through New Haven.

And Morand said Yale supports the project as well.

“We at Yale are glad to see the progress now underway on the section of the trail between Science Park and Prospect Street,” he said.

A 1998 Yale press release reported that sections of the recreational trail had been finished in Cheshire and Hamden and that Yale would grant easements for the section of the trail running through campus once the other New Haven portions were completed.

“We hope that it can be built, and we are happy to contribute to the success of a recreational asset to be enjoyed by the entire community,” he said in the press release.

Even with Yale’s support of the project, progress has been slow. But Morand said he foresees great success for the project when it is completed.

“The project has proven a success in other neighboring towns, such as Cheshire and Hamden, and it surely will be enjoyed by New Haveners, including members of the Yale community,” Morand said.

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