Construction is set to begin on Milton’s Rails to Trails pathway in summer 2019, extending the trail along the railroad line from Chestnut Street to Lavinia Street.
Delaware Department of Transportation has already begun clearing the site for the 1,600-foot trail. Bob Perrine, project manager for DelDOT, said the work is related to the railroad bridge that will be part of the trail. Perrine said the department would be removing railroad debris and ties, so that construction crews can move in.
The 10-foot-wide asphalt trail is estimated to cost $1 million, with 80 percent funded by the state. The remaining $200,000 will be funded by the town, but Town Manager Kristy Rogers said at an Oct. 29 public workshop that the town received $110,000 in municipal street aid from Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, and Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, and a $90,000 grant from Delaware Greenways.
To make way for equipment, DelDOT will clear 20 feet on each side, leaving a 13-foot buffer between the trail and private property lines. Rogers said construction will take place from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Rogers said the trail will not be lit other than some low-lying light for security. DelDOT officials say construction would take three to five months.
Most of those in attendance at the Oct. 29 workshop live on West Shore Drive in the Wagamon’s West Shores development, the neighborhood nearest to where the trail will go. Town officials have said one goal of the trail is to connect Wagamon’s West Shores with the rest of the town. But those who packed Milton library for the workshop were more concerned about their property value.
Some property owners had planted shrubbery or erected fences within the 20-foot area DelDOT will be clearing. Perrine said those plantings will be removed and replaced by new plantings by DelDOT.
Still, some homeowners were not convinced. West Shore Drive resident Bill Tallend said he paid $600 to remove debris from behind his house and planted new shrubbery. Now, he said, that shrubbery will have to be moved back to make way for the trail project.
“It’s going to look like hell,” Tallend said. “We’re going to lose all our beautiful trees.”
Marsha Somers, who lives adjacent to the trail, said, as proposed, the project will remove a number of large trees which serve as a buffer from traffic. She said she was aware the trail could happen when she bought her house, but she did not think it would be what DelDOT has proposed.
“We were told it was a trail,” Somers said. “This is almost like a road behind us.”
Somers and other residents asked whether DelDOT could reduce the area that is being cleared to save trees and shrubbery. DelDOT engineer Paul Moser said the department is using the existing railroad line footprint in an effort to save money. He said if the trail path were changed, it could increase costs from $1 million to possibly $3 million because of the increased amount of clearing that would need to be done.
“This is a pretty low-hanging fruit for connecting all of you guys to other parts of Milton,” Moser said.
Derek Jones, owner of Atlantic Contracting and Materials, the contractor on the project, said they will be using a Hitachi excavator to clear the path. The excavator will have a large boom on it that will enable crews to turn and put material into 30-foot-long dumpsters.
Several property owners asked about lighting, requesting not to have 24/7 lights on the trail. Rogers said at this point, there is no plan to light the trail, other than some small lights for safety, but DelDOT is exploring putting conduits along the trail path so lighting could be installed later. Rogers said the town will be responsible for maintenance once the trail is complete, but DelDOT will have ultimate responsibility for the railroad bridge.
While many residents had questions and concerns for town and DelDOT officials, some residents were eager for the trail to come in.
Milton resident Heidi Borys said the trail will be a much safer alternative to getting from West Shore Drive into town, as opposed to walking down Lavinia Street.
Judy Shacktman, a West Shore Drive resident, said she bought her property knowing the trail was coming.
“We looked at Lavinia and said, ‘You’ve got to be crazy to walk that road,’” she said. “I can’t wait for it to come.”