Where We Stand on R488 – An Amended Policy on Rail and Trail for the U&D Corridor

Tonight, the Ulster County Legislature is taking up a resolution that has far-reaching implications for our signature initiative – the Kingston Greenline. Resolution 488 amends the Legislature’s policy regarding uses of the U&D Corridor to specify in detail where the corridor should include trail, rail and both. A map available here helps portray the latest policy.

Proposed Uses Under R488

Proposed Uses Under R488

In short, we support R488, which is a further clarification of the best and highest uses of the county-owned U&D Corridor. The new policy represents a real effort by the Legislature to balance the identified highest and best uses for the U&D Corridor – putting the interests of County residents first and foremost – in an effort to preserve, restore and utilize the valuable public asset of the Ulster & Delaware while its still possible to do so. With the Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail, we sat through long and painful committee meetings, and lobbied throughout the process to ensure that the final result struck a careful balance. While we wish that the outcome was a clear “win” for the Kingston Greenline, we are satisfied that we’ve accomplished a reasonable compromise.

Here’s why we support this, even though it is likely to increase the cost of trail development in the corridor:

1) R488 confirms as county policy the intent to convert the U&D from Cornell Street to the Kingston Plaza to a linear park and trail exclusively.

This is a crucial connector that will extend from the proposed bike lanes on Broadway (and via those, the future Kingston Point Rail Trail) to the start of the future Kingston section of the O&W Rail Trail at Washington Ave. In this section, it is infeasible to construct a trail next to existing rails due to the narrowness of the corridor. We are pleased that the County is acknowledging the important benefits of a trail here, including non-motorized access between Midtown and Uptown commercial areas, schools and transit facilities; the current lack of parks and greenspace in this section of Midtown; and the ability to connect with future trails and complete streets including the Kingston Point Rail Trail and a proposed future extension of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.

2) R488 establishes rail and trail as the preferred option from the plaza up to the Ashokan Trail, with an explicit call to preserve trail connectivity on the corridor where feasible.

This is an important part of why we support this policy – it acknowledges that railroad operations are a valuable addition to this part of the corridor, but also that trail connectivity from Kingston to the Ashokan Trail must be preserved. The challenge, as ever, has to do with cost – rail-and-trail are not easily collocated on this corridor, and to do so will imply significant expense. We will continue to advocate for common-sense measures to ensure that the cost does not preclude the development of trail in this connecting section.

3) R488 confirms the preference for trail-only within NYC DEP lands, and complies with existing agreements between the County and DEP.

In the latest report by the Legislature’s consultants, this future section of trail was described as perhaps one of the most scenic in the region. It promises to be a significant tourist draw, and to provide tremendous public benefits in the form of increased property values, improved public health, and economic impact from construction and visitor spending. With funding from NYC DEP already in hand, this policy reaffirms the intent to convert this section to trail, which will allow rapid development of trail designs that will advance construction in the coming years. To residents of Kingston, this trail will provide a great new destination for healthy outdoor recreation. But in addition, by stating its desire to preserve connectivity between this trail and Kingston, the policy preserves an important goal of the Kingston Greenline – to serve as the hub of a county-wide trail system that links the Walkway Over the Hudson to the Catskill Mountains.

R488 is a compromise, ceding more milage of rail-and-trail than the County Executive’s previous proposal, and to us, it represents the limit of concessions to rail uses that won’t prevent a well-designed and connected trail. As this resolution arises at tonight’s meeting, we’ll be there to support its passage, and then we’ll keep working – along with the Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail – to build this trail!!

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