BANGOR, Maine — The City Council took its first solid steps toward providing happy trails to its residents by giving a go-ahead for further evaluation, cost analysis and planning for a waterfront walking/running/cycling trail system Monday night.

A long-debated idea to build trails along the waterfront that eventually will link the area around the new arena and events center to the waterfront along Front Street gained traction as councilors voted 7-2 in a council workshop session to approve further study and a plan for the project, which Bangor Community and Economic Development Director Rod McKay said could be started and finished this calendar year.

“We’ve been talking about this forever, and we need to start this at the very least,” said Councilor Sue Hawes while voting in favor of the plan.

The focus of the latest incarnation of this plan involves the creation of a trail from Railroad Street to the old railroad roundhouse down behind Hollywood Casino on the riverfront. The preliminary proposal includes streetlamps, wiring, secondary walkways, rain gardens, trash cans and benches along the route.

City Manager Cathy Conlow told councilors the city has a balance of $737,000 earmarked for the project from tax-increment financing funds, Community Development Block Grant money and funds in the city’s developmental budget.

“Our early projection estimate is for the project to be around $500,000, but that is just an estimate on the high side,” said Conlow. “Going ahead, we’ll be able to get more accurate cost figures.”

It was the preliminary cost figures that gave Councilor Ben Sprague pause before he cautiously gave his approval.

“As I look at this, I can’t vote for a project that includes $64,000 for 20 benches and five trash cans for $12,000,” Sprague said, noting the average cost of $3,200 per bench and $2,400 per trash can.

Councilors Pat Blanchette and James Gallant noted that the benches would be made of granite, not wood, for more durability, longer life and resistance to vandalism, but agreed that the costs should be evaluated further and that all equipment would be put out for competitive bids by the city to get the best prices.

Part of an initial proposal for the trail system included an arboretum, restaurant/snack shack and splash park, but those were casualties of budget constraints.

The cost for the eventual construction of the entire proposed trail system from the arena to the Sea Dog Brewing Co. and docks, including beautification and reorientation of Westmarket Square, could range as high as $2.5 million, according to McKay.

In a later meeting of the full board, Councilor Charlie Longo and Mayor Cary Weston tangled over the comment/question portion of discussion relating to the appointment of three more members to the council’s committee in support of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Facility.

Llongo mentioned not having received any notice of the addition of three people to the committee and Weston did not recognize him when he wanted to make further comment. Longo wound up walking out of the meeting and didn’t return.

Also, Sprague’s call for a resolve by the council against MaineCare cuts proposed by the Maine Legislature was unanimously supported.

“We deal with a lot of things at the municipal level of government and sometimes these larger, statewide issues we don’t jump into, but when you think about it, our labor force here locally is so based in health care and education that any cuts from Augusta would be devastating to our local economy, not to mention the loss of services that would entail,” Sprague said.

Sprague noted his grandmother is a MaineCare recipient who is residing in an Alzheimer’s care facility.

Sprague told a story that further galvanized his desire to call attention to potential MaineCare cuts.

“I stopped into a local convenience store to visit my friend who works behind the register,” Sprague recalled. “While I was there, an able-bodied young person probably about 21 or 22 came in and bought 20 candy bars with food stamps and laughed about it as we questioned her on it while she paid.

“There are people bilking the system and we have to root them out. But we should not be placing the burden of fixing budget gaps on the elderly, sick and truly destitute.”