Mere months after Gov. Dannel Malloy boosted transportation infrastructure funding and the Senate passed Public Act No. 15-190, which expands the range of transport programs the state can fund, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced that an additional $5.8 million in grants will fund improvements to bikeways, walkways and greenways — undeveloped strips of land near urban areas devoted to recreation or environmental protection.
DEEP announced in a March 24 press release that its Recreational Trails Grant Program will sponsor 38 projects to refurbish and expand Connecticut greenways. These projects, which DEEP expects will be mostly complete by 2017, will offer Connecticut residents more transportation options for their daily commute and will also stimulate economic and community development by connecting and resurfacing previously fragmented trails.
“This is the first round of grants through a newly reconstituted state-funded trails grant program,” DEEP Director of Communications Dennis Schain said. “They are having a very positive impact on public health, as well as, in some locations, economic development.”
Bruce Donald, chair of the Connecticut Greenways Council and president of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, attributed the increased support for this grant program to Malloy’s 2016–17 proposal to increase transportation infrastructure funding by $2.8 billion over the next 5 years. A June 2015 press release referred to Malloy’s funding commitment as “the largest investment in transportation infrastructure in Connecticut history,” noting that the next five years will see $101 million dedicated to the construction and improvement of bicycle and pedestrian trails across the state.
In the same press release, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said the budget’s increased support for sustainable transportation is demonstrative of Connecticut’s forward-mindedness.
“This budget expresses Connecticut’s commitment to our future — to a stronger transportation network that ensures we are moving people and products efficiently; a growing economy that creates good-paying jobs for our residents and drives expansion of our global footprint,” she said.
Donald added that DEEP can now fund a broader array of innovative projects since PA 15-190 — which expands eligibility for grants to include nonprofits and a wider variety of proposals, including trail amenities and design, land acquisition, construction, equipment and publications for bikeways, walkways and greenways — has been passed.
President of green transport nonprofit Bike Walk Connecticut Laura Baum said the trails program, though previously federally funded, was perpetually underfunded. The state affirmed this sentiment in a June 2015 press release, admitting that Connecticut has not kept up with necessary modernizations of its transportation systems.
“There was an enormous backlog of projects in Connecticut that needed funding,” Donald said. “We felt very lucky to be able to fund the vast majority of them.”
Donald noted that many of these projects are “shovel-ready” and will begin construction in the coming months. Baum added that she expects 50 to 70 percent of the projects receiving funding will be underway during this upcoming construction season.
Baum lauded the trails’ ability to develop a strong sense of community and safety, stimulate economies and allow urban citizens to experience new ecosystems. Schain also noted these initiatives will provide new places “for families to enjoy the outdoors at convenient locations.”
“The community comes alive around them,” Baum said, adding that she plans to approach the state this summer for $5 million more in funding for trail development if the expansion of the trail grant program is successful.
DEEP will host a meeting on April 7 to help grant recipients take the next steps in bringing their project proposals to fruition.