As far as I know Charlestown has never officially decided to have a bike path. There has never even been a public discussion of the concept. This week the Charlestown town council postponed a discussion on another bike path feasibility study which cost taxpayers $27,000. We should have a referendum first to decide whether or not we favor financing a bike path before we waste any more money on futile studies. If there is a majority interest, then we can discuss bike path route options. To have a discussion now on a route implies the town has already decided to do a bike path. This is not true. A few people are pushing the bike path concept without most citizens being aware of the effort.
This feasibility study is just another typical example of what I consider to be a self-serving study. Mrs. LaBossiere and her bike path supporters picked the engineer, wrote the scope of work, and decided the routes of the study. The results were foregone conclusions, therefore it was no surprise the bike path is a completely feasible idea with no complications. I don’t believe any bike path type is practical for our rural roads. I don’t believe all the realities of a bike path were addressed. Two big realities need to be openly and seriously discussed: 1. Where is the land coming from?; and 2. Where is the money coming from?
What is sad is that a scenic bike path north of Route 1 is not considered a viable alternative. The bike-promoters have decided the path will pass through the businesses in the center of town. Why not a scenic route instead? There has not been any discussion of a bike path north of Route 1 where citizens and tourists could enjoy the beauty of our woods, ponds, fields, and streams. Councilors Mrs. Carroccia and Mr. Wilkinson both talked about a bike path in the north side of town in their campaign statements. It will be interesting to see if they still promote the idea or go along with the latest study.
Approximately three years ago a previous town council voted to construct a 1.3-mile bike path within Ninigret Park on the old military runways. Including studies, construction, and a QA/QC contract, the cost was approximately $300,000 or about a quarter of a million dollars per mile. At the town council meeting before this was approved, questions were raised as to why the path would be so expensive. The town administrator stated the bike path would have to be built to current safety standards, therefore the high costs.
At that time, I was curious what a standard bike path was all about, so I took measurements of the bike path at Ninigret after it was built. The asphalt component was 10 feet wide. On each side was a packed-gravel shoulder of 2 feet. This meant a “standard bike path” is 14’ wide. Phrased another way, this means land the width of 14’ is required for the bike path to meet modern standards. This land can only be acquired by four means: 1. By using part of an existing road (called “shared lane” in the study). This is completely impractical. Our rural roads are already narrow and crowded, therefore not very safe; 2. Purchase the land. Even if owners were willing to sell, it would be expensive; 3. An organization, such as National Grid, allows access to their land. I have never seen in writing any willingness by any entity to this effect; 4. By using eminent domain to seize the land. This also is very impractical. The costs and legal battles could go on forever. But what is disturbing is the study never mentions eminent domain. They hide it with the expression “will require the acquisition … of land from 52 privately owned parcels.” How many of these parcels will be seized by eminent domain? When I was a town councilor, Mrs. Labossiere tried to order me not to use the term eminent domain in connection with bike path discussions. Property owners beware.
The bike path in Ninigret was built on existing runways where the land was already owned by the town, had already been cleared and grubbed, a thick gravel base had already been laid, and some asphalt had been laid. Even with those pre-existing financial advantages the bike path within Ninigret cost approximately a quarter of a million dollars per mile. I don’t know what it will realistically cost outside of the park, but when you add the costs of land purchase, clearing and grubbing, setting a gravel base, legal fees/battles, laying asphalt, etc., you can be sure it will definitely cost a lot more than a quarter of a million dollars per mile or what the study claims. We will be told by the bike path promoters the state will pay for it. I am a town and state taxpayer. I don’t want my taxes wantonly wasted from either tax source. Taxpayers beware.
If the town is in favor of paying for a bike path, serious consideration should be given to routing north of Route 1. Costs would be considerable lower due to the use of town and state land, land purchases would be fewer and cheaper, there would be less chance of eminent domain battles, and more flexibility in routing. And the scenery would be far better!
Steven J. Williams