ELLSWORTH, Maine — Crews have begun work on a 1.3-mile long bicycle-pedestrian path that will run alongside the Calais Branch rail line.
The contractor for the $953,000 project, RF Jordan & Sons Construction of Ellsworth, has begun clearing trees and brush along the planned route of the path which will run from the intersection of routes 179 (North Street) and 1A to Birch Avenue. Plans call for a 10-foot wide paved path that will be separated from the tracks by a 6-foot tall chain-link fence. The closest the trail will come to the tracks is 10.6 feet.
Although the rail line has been abandoned for decades, Downeast Scenic Railways began running scenic train rides on that section of tracks last summer.
“This creates a great recreational opportunity for the area,’’ Ellsworth Assistant Planner Jef Fitzgerald said Friday. “It will be paved, so people will be able to ride bikes and walk, as well as roller blade and skateboard.’’
The project is part of a wider city plan to provide a series of paths and sidewalks that will link the downtown area to the surrounding area and provide safe walking paths from residential areas to the city’s schools. The high school is located near the middle of the path that is now under construction.
According to Fitzgerald, the city just put out to bid a project to build a sidewalk along Davis Street that will link the new path to existing sidewalks on Oak Street. The city also recently built new sidewalks leading to the new Ellsworth Elementary/Middle School.
“This is going to provide a safe route in those neighborhoods to get from the trail to the K-8 school,’’ he said.
There are plans to extend the new path about four blocks from Birch Street along the rail line to Main Street and then to extend the path an additional two miles along the rail line to Washington Junction, he said. There it would link up with the Down East Sunrise Trail, the 85-mile long trail along the converted rail bed which runs from Washington Junction in Hancock to Ayers Junction.
Construction of the bicycle-pedestrian path is dependent upon the weather. Once the ground thaws, crews will begin excavation work needed for the project. It is expected to be completed by the end of August.