January 27, 2022

New trail gains foothold

Project to build pedestrian path taking shape

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

An excavator machine, owned by the Suit-Kote construction company, is parked on a basketball court in Yaman Park near a tunnel beneath Interstate 81. The city of Cortland plans to construct a pedestrian trail from Yaman Park, through the tunnel, to connect with Main Street.

Bright orange traffic cones and detour signs line Clinton Avenue near Interstate 81’s Exit 11 in Cortland.

Underneath is the beginning of what will eventually be a pedestrian path, letting bicyclists and walkers travel from Yaman Park eventually to Cortland’s Main Street.

In 2019, the city of Cortland secured an assortment of grants and loans followed by an additional $4.8 million in state and federal funding for a series of infrastructure projects. The goal is to connect SUNY Cortland, Main Street and Yaman Park, featuring a bike and pedestrian path to allow safe travels under I-81.

The state Department of Transportation awarded an $8 million contract in May 2020 to remove bridges over the abandoned Lehigh Valley Railroad, replacing it with fill and a new section of highway.

The DOT left the railroad tunnel under the interstate for the city to develop its Northeast Gateway Intermodal Corridor.

“They were going to fill it in entirely, but they asked us and we said we’d like to keep that open,” said Mayor Brian Tobin.

Keeping the tunnel accessible was a priority for two reasons, Tobin said. In addition to giving pedestrians a safe option to travel across town, the tunnel would provide another route option during an emergency.

“In the event of a catastrophic emergency — if something really bad happened on I-81 — then we’d be able to get emergency service vehicles through that second method, as a safety component,” Tobin said. “But the whole point of having it is for it to be accessible, it’s important because you want people to not just have to drive cars, it could be walkable and bikeable.”

Although accessibility is a priority, many other steps that need to take place before this pedestrian trail can be constructed, Tobin said.

Nic Dovi, superintendent of public works, said the city is still in the design process of the project and has yet to set a timeline or estimate a completion date.

The pedestrian trail is just one of many city projects in the works, Tobin said, such as adding bike routes to the northern end of Homer Avenue through North Main Street, to improve safety for people traveling without a car.

“It’s important for us to make sure that our sidewalks and other infrastructures focus on safety, giving people these opportunities,” Tobin said.