Friday, October 7, 2011

Key Link in Eastern Trail Opened, Dedicated

By Scott Andrews
Staff Columnist
It’s easier to get from Maine to Florida. At least if you’re walking or riding a bicycle.
A key link in that long and winding route, which stretches between Calais and Key West, was opened late last summer and officially dedicated last week.
On September 28, representatives of the Eastern Trail Alliance, the East Coast Greenway, Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Department of Transportation gathered with hundreds of guests — many of them students at the Kennebunk Elementary School — to dedicate the new bridge over the Maine Turnpike at Mile 26.3, just north of Exit 25 and the Kennebunk service plaza.
The bridge, which spans six lanes of traffic, was built at a cost of approximately $1.2 million. It links two sections of the Eastern Trail in Kennebunk. When completed, the Eastern Trail will provide a 65-mile off-road route for pedestrians and bicyclists between Kittery and South Portland, passing through 10 towns.
The 28-mile distance from Kennebunk to South Portland is now 75 percent complete, with another section in Scarborough due to open later this fall. The South Portland Green Belt will complete the distance to Portland.
Most of the projected route follows the abandoned right-of-way of the Eastern Railroad, which was last used in 1944. Although the tracks were ripped out and the railroad was abandoned, the property was never fragmented, thanks to the Unitil natural gas pipeline, which uses the former railroad. Unitil grants the Eastern Trail Alliance the right to use the property.
The Eastern Trail is part of an even grander scheme, the East Coast Greenway. The general concept behind the East Coast Greenway is to create a pedestrian pathway and off-road bicycle route roughly parallel to the famed Appalachian Trail. Whereas the AT connects high mountain peaks, the East Coast Greenway will connect — and run through — major cities.
The East Coast Greenway was first proposed in 1991. As currently envisioned, total mileage will be approximately 3,000, running between Calais, Maine, and Key West, Florida. Twenty-three percent of the total projected route in nine states plus the District of Columbia has been completed.
The Eastern Trail was first proposed in 1997 by John Andrews, a retired engineer from Saco, who remains the driving force behind the effort. Prior to last week, the largest project on the trail was a bridge over the Scarborough Marsh, which was opened in 2004.
Two more large bridges are needed between Kennebunk and Portland, one to cross the Saco River between Biddeford and Saco and the other to cross Route 1 in Scarborough. The latter is currently under construction.
At the dedication ceremony, Maine Turnpike executive director Peter Mills, a longtime jogger, spoke of the need for recreational opportunities such as the Eastern Trail.
“We need places in our cities and towns where we can get outdoors and feel safe from traffic,” he said. “The Eastern Trail is just such a place.”
Photo caption: On September 28, Kennebunk celeberated the newly dedicated Eastern Trail bridge, which spans the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk. (Photo by Scott Andrews)