State awards $239K for southeastern Connecticut bike, pedestrian plan

Norwich — With a $239,050 boost in state funding announced Wednesday, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments will develop a regional bicycle and pedestrian plan over the next year as planners look to capitalize on burgeoning tourism and opportunities to upgrade aging infrastructure.

Part of $15 million awarded to transit projects in towns and cities across Connecticut, the grant allows the council of governments to study the region's diverse infrastructure and planning needs in the hopes of enhancing local networks of roads, bike paths, sidewalks and programs for bikers and walkers.

Kate Rattan, transportation planner for the council of governments, described the award as well-timed because the state recently underwent "an extensive process to identify state routes that are appropriate for biking and walking," but only a handful routes are in the region.

"We need to make our networks more robust," Rattan said Wednesday. "Tourism is such a big part of our economy, in addition to our major employers. We're marketing to a new generation and we have to think about reinvesting in aging infrastructure. People want to bike and walk and we need to analyze and see how we can better serve them."

Within the next few months, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments will solicit bids from consultants who'll gather data from towns and stakeholders to pinpoint where bike paths are desired; what sidewalks are unsafe or noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and what local leaders, bike groups, planners and public works employees need to create safer, more interconnected pathways.

Rattan noted it's challenging to apply for funding "when your bike/pedestrian plan doesn't have statistics" or a groundswell of support from local biking and walking advocates.

Jim Butler, executive director of the governments council, said a standalone regional bike and pedestrian plan was "something we've been looking to do for a long time. We're thrilled."

The group will issue a final report within the next 10 months.

As far as implementation and construction down the road, Rattan said planners and towns would seek state and federal funding wherever possible, including potential grants available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the "nexus of health and transportation becomes a topic of increasing interest nationally."

Most of the $15 million in transit grants announced by Gov. Dannel Malloy on Wednesday was awarded to planning and construction projects in specific cities and towns. But the bike and pedestrian plan grant will help the council of governments identify biking and walking paths to improve or create throughout the agency's almost two dozen member municipalities.

The grants came through the state's competitive Responsible Growth and Transit-Oriented Development Grant Program, which is administered by the Office of Policy and Management.

"Transportation isn't just about cars, trains and buses. It's about building vibrant communities and continuing to make Connecticut a more attractive place to live, visit and do business," Malloy said in a news release. 


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