CHARLESTOWN — Residents expressed opinions for and against a coastal route bikeway at a public hearing Tuesday, with some saying they would welcome the project and others concerned that construction would require that portions of properties on the route would have to be given up, possibly through eminent domain.
The Town Council commissioned a $27,000 feasibility study from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., a Providence engineering firm, to determine the cost of building a bikeway from Ninigret Park to Matunuck Schoolhouse Road on the South Kingstown line.
With the study in hand, Council President Virginia Lee stated that “The intention tonight is not a decision, it’s to get information.”
Engineer Bill DeSantis, who specializes in designing bikeways, presented several options for a Route 1 bicycle path and outlined their associated costs.
“The study provides the technical data for the town to determine the options moving forward to secure design and construction funding for what we call the coastal route bikeway,” he said. “It’ll serve as a basis for you to apply for funding through the Rhode Island Statewide Transportation Improvement program which is under revision right now, or other types of funding sources, perhaps from environmental agencies like DEM.”
Another possible state funding source, DeSantis said, is the Statewide Bicycle Mobility Plan.
“Rhode Island is in the process of updating their long range 20-year transportation plan, and a component of that is the bicycle mobility plan,” he said. “The goals of the bicycle mobility plan were to develop a plan to guide investment in bicycle infrastructure and bikeways statewide.”
Originating in Ninigret park, the proposed bikeway, which would be open to pedestrians as well as cyclists, would connect the park and the town center, and continue to the South Kingstown border.
Engineers studied the physical characteristics of the areas bordering the routes and came up with three options. The first, Option A, costing $6 million, would be a shared use, off-road path along Route 1, around King Tom Pond to Post Road and continuing to South Kingstown.
Option B, at $5.5 million, would create striped bicycle lanes along Route A. Option C, the most costly alternative at $10.7 million, would be an off-road, shared use path along Route 1A.
While the configurations and costs of the three options differ, they share common elements. They would all connect to existing bike paths in Ninigret Park, they would travel around King Tom Pond and they would include marked bike lanes on Matunuck Schoolhouse Road.
Not included in the cost estimates is the installation of a new traffic signal at Narrow Lane and Route 1, which would cost between $2 million and $3 million.
In addition to the cost of the project, some residents said they were concerned that widening roads to accommodate a bikeway would require incursions onto neighboring properties, including businesses like Kingston Pizza, which would lose most of its parking lot.
A sticking point for many was the possibility that some of their property could be taken by eminent domain. Jodi Frank said her parents’ property would be greatly affected.
“It goes through homes, stone walls, cemeteries, business parking lots,” she said. “Where is there a precedent for taking over people’s properties for a bike path?”
Council Vice President Deborah Carney expressed similar sentiments. “Right of way acquisition, this goes to the question that’s come up several times tonight, acquiring people’s properties, eminent domain offers made," she said. "What happens if the property owner doesn’t accept?" a government offer, she said.
DeSantis replied that there have been cases in which eminent domain had been used to obtain property for bike paths.
“We all try and avoid that,” he said. “If it comes down to there’s one property owner out of a dozen that doesn’t want a purchase, I think the town has to make a decision.”
Other residents questioned the value of such an expensive amenity.
Rick Comolli, who lives north of Route 1, suggested that the path, which would be more accessible to people who live south of the highway, would benefit only summer residents.
“So, this bike path is used for, what, four months out of the year for summer residents in that area right there?” he said. “What about people on the north side of Charlestown, Charlestown Elementary School, Ross Hill Road?”
Other residents said money would be better spent on transportation for the town’s seniors, or easing dangerous summer traffic on Charlestown Beach Road. Some pointed to the existing bike path in Ninigret Park, which was originally supposed to cost $7,000 but ended up costing $30,000.
“Let’s do the projects that we need to do and not do a bike path,” Deena Robbins told the council. “A bike path is a luxury as far as I’m concerned.”
Others, like David Green, said he would welcome the bikeway.
“Many of the neighbors in the houses that area around me are very much interested in it,” he said. “It would be a great idea.”
Council members voted unanimously to wait until they receive the results of an upcoming residents’ survey, yet to be designed, before further exploring the bikeway options.
Lee said the report would be useful if the town decided to apply for state funding.
“This has been very helpful, because this is in the state [transportation] plan,” she said. “So now the town is armed with information, estimates of costs, and a sense of what’s feasible and what’s not … I don’t have any interest in doing anything further until after the survey.”