DRYDEN — Ellie O’Connor walks her dogs along the Dryden Rail Trail as often as she can. Wednesday morning, the trio began their journey at the Freeville Pavilion — the silky, golden lab and chocolate colored German shorthaired pointer repeatedly switched places on either side of her, waiting to begin their usual 3-mile route.
By the end of next year, O’Connor could take them on a stroll on a bridge over Route 13 to Ithaca if she were up to it. The town of Dryden plans a public information session on Wednesday for people to check out the project design for a bridge over the highway.
The 3.3-mile Dryden Rail Trail follows a former railroad bed south from the village of Freeville to the village of Dryden, connecting with the 4.2-mile Jim Schug Trail continuing south to Dryden Lake and beyond to Purvis Road. The proposed trail will add another three miles to the path, passing through Varna toward the eastern side of Ithaca, traveling through a wetlands area that is part of the Cornell Botanic Gardens.
For the past five years, the town of Dryden is working to make the trail more accessible for pedestrians, cyclists and horseback riders. The bridge project proposes to construct a 10-foot-wide stone dust trail along the former railroad bed from Monkey Run Road to Hall Woods Road, featuring a $2 million steel, prefabricated bridge going over Route 13.
The task force plans to fund the bridge through the $1.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration, a $500,000 state grant and a $50,000 grant from the Tompkins County Tourism Program.
“The more you make these places accessible for people to walk around and get outside — especially with the pandemic, I don’t know what I would have down without the trail and my dogs — the easier it is for people to enjoy the trail system,” said O’Connor, of Freeville.
The town hired Erdman Anthony, an engineering consulting firm, to design a bridge to go over Route 13 at Route 366 near the New York State Electric and Gas Corp. headquarters in the town of Ithaca. A public information session about the bridge project will be 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Neptune Fire Hall, 26 North St., Dryden.
“We hope that people can just drop in after work and get some information, express their concerns or their enthusiasm, or leave a comment,” said Bob Beck, chairman of the Dryden Rail Trail Task Force. “We’ll try to answer any questions that people may have, and invite them to look at maps and illustrations, and learn about what we have in mind for the bridge project.”
Su George, an Ithaca resident and lecturer at Cornell University, stopped by the Freeville pavilion Wednesday morning to check out the trail on her way home after visiting a friend in Cortland.
“I was curious what we could do when we go hiking,” George said. “I looked up the Dryden Rail Trail, and I thought to myself. ‘Wow, that’s ambitious!’ Then I remembered reading about the bridge, and I
feel like it could be a good place where we can bike from Ithaca.”
George said she wants to attend the open house to learn more about the project and check out the designs.
“This is something that has been dreamed about for decades,” Beck said. “Rail trails like this are being developed all over the country and are really bringing opportunities for residents in the community to get out, get fresh air and enjoy nature.”
The bridge over Route 13 will provide a safer option for travelers, he said.
“Even bicycling on our highways is not great — there’s too much traffic going way too fast — but there’s no real comfortable way to get between our communities,” Beck said.
The bridge trail would allow pedestrians and bikers to avoid the hazards of traveling along the highway.
The bridge project is still in the preliminary design phase now, and the task force doesn’t expect a final design until early summer 2022, said town Planning Director Ray Burger. However, once the final design is chosen, Burger said he expects contractors to get started by August 2022 and have construction completed by the end of the year.