WINDHAM — Plans to build bike lanes on county Route 12 are moving forward despite a game of permit ping-pong between Greene County and the city Department of Environmental Protection.
The Route 12 lane — a projected 1.5-mile bicycle track running from Windham Mountain to the corner of Route 296 — would add two 5-foot bicycle and pedestrian extensions on either side of Route 12, also known as South Street.
The project would require constructing new road surfaces and painting new lanes, according to the initial project design presented last year.
The lane was designed for cyclists with additional space for pedestrians, Greene County Highway Superintendent Robert Van Valkenburg said.
The $1.8 million project received 80 percent of its funding through the federal Surface Transportation Program, accompanied by a $279,000 state contribution and $93,000 from Greene County, according to the project design.
The county is sponsoring the project, Van Valkenburg said.
“This is something that’s been talked about for years,” he said.
The lane would connect the Windham Path, a 1.5-mile multi-use trail, to the center of town, increasing Windham’s pedestrian and recreational options, said Greene County Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham.
Torgersen is on the board of nonprofit Windham Area Recreation Foundation, or WARF, which applied for the bike lane grant years ago, she said.
“It’s a pivotal, high-traffic area for tourists and residents,” Torgersen said, noting the hotels and restaurants near the intersection of Route 296 and South Street. “The Windham Path extension has always been a part of WARF’s inter-connectedness vision.”
Improving safety was another main project goal, according to the report.
“South Street is a very narrow road and especially when there are bikers around, it can get sketchy,” Windham Town Supervisor Robert Pelham said in support of the project. “I think more people would use it with [lanes] available.”
The town wasn’t a lead agency on the project because the lane was proposed for a county road, Pelham said.
The original construction date was set for this spring, but plans hit a snag when county officials learned they had to prepare for a variance requirement issued by the city Department of Environmental Protection, Van Valkenburg said.
“We lost several months preparing for the variance,” he said.
Preparations required the county to move the project back to the next construction season.
Widening the road triggered the DEP’s watershed regulations because it would add more than 1 acre of new water-resistant surface and disturb more than 2 acres of soil, DEP Public Affairs Director Adam Bosch said Tuesday.
Initially, the DEP thought the project would require a variance because it interfered with stream crossings — at least eight along that stretch of Route 12, Bosch said.
The DEP reversed course on the requirement after being reviewed by the department’s lawyers because the route falls within a hamlet, an area exempt from certain restrictions to allow development, according to DEP guidelines.
“Our lawyers took a fresh look at that and decided they wouldn’t need the variance,” Bosch said, noting the project would need a standard Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan for the construction phase.
The variance wouldn’t have halted the project, Van Valkenburg said.
Some project supporters expressed frustration over the delay to expand Windham’s recreational and economic development.
“Things are going at a molasses pace while the world is going around us,” Windham Area Recreation Foundation President Nick Bove said. “Through our meetings and getting [Greene County] Soil and Water involved, we found out the DEP was wrongfully flexing their muscles.”
Bove ran against Pelham for town supervisor last year.
Eight months ago, the Windham Area Recreation Foundation circulated a petition “New York City Department of Environmental Protection Strangling the Catskills,” which called out the DEP’s regulations of the Windham Path expansion.
The petition had 750 signatures Wednesday.
“It’s a challenge for the county, the nonprofits and residents to maintain economic viability and recreational opportunities allowable by the DEP as they continue to purchase land here,” Torgersen said.
The county is set to submit preliminary designs of the bike lane to the state Department of Transportation in a few weeks, Van Valkenburg said.
Construction is slated to begin next spring, and the bike lane rollout is planned for fall 2019.
Some homeowners along the lane expressed concerns during the public hearing session held last year, but they were addressed in the design report, Van Valkenburg said.
A few private properties are listed along the proposed route, but surveyors are conducting a right-of-way survey to identify and avoid impacts.