ITHACA, N.Y. — Three projects that will enhance paths for pedestrians and bicyclists in Ithaca, Dryden and Cayuga Heights have received major funding to move forward.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced $6.5 million in funding for six bicycle and pedestrian enhancement projects in the Southern Tier — and half of the projects awarded will benefit Tompkins County. The projects include the Black Diamond Trail grant, a $1.5 million grant for the Dryden Rail Trail and a $535,000 grant for the Village of Cayuga Heights for sidewalks that will make walking to school safer.

The funds are made available through the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the New York State Department of Transportation.

With $1.2 million awarded through the state, the City of Ithaca will build a bridge over the flood control channel at the end of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail to Cecil Malone Drive and Cherry Street. When finished, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to more easily get from West Hill to businesses on the south end of the city. And someday, it will be part of a long trail system that connects the Black Diamond Trail — which starts at Taughannock Falls — to Buttermilk Falls and Robert H. Treman State Park.

Tim Logue, director of engineering services for the City of Ithaca, said the bridge will provide a benefit for West Hill residents to reach shopping areas on the southwest end of Ithaca, and for people in the southside neighborhoods to reach the trail system and waterfront.

“It not only saves time, but it also helps people on foot or on bike to avoid the congested and uncomfortable area of Route 13 at Meadow and Fulton Streets,” Logue said in an email.

The bridge that will be constructed in the City of Ithaca is one piece of a larger vision for a long trail system in Tompkins County. The 8.5-mile Black Diamond Trail connects Ithaca to Taughannock Falls in Ulysses. Logue said the bridge will be a big step forward for the Black Diamond Trail and “our burgeoning trail network.”

“NYS Parks has taken great leadership to build the first phase between the City and Taughannock State Park, and the City, State Parks, and the Town of Ithaca are working together to accomplish the second phase between Cass Park and Buttermilk Falls State Park. With funding opportunities of this scale hard to come by, it’s important that we take advantage of these big grants. And, lastly, investments in our trails system serve a wide range of people of all ages, needs and abilities – whether you are just learning to ride a bike, enjoy a walking group of seniors, are trying to live a car-free or car-lite lifestyle, can’t afford a car, are visiting and want a memorable experience, are trying to exercise more, or for a variety of other reasons – the trail vision set out in the Priority Trails Strategy should really be a win-win for all of us. Happy to take another step forward,” Logue said.

The recently announced grants will also help construct other paths in Tompkins County, like a plan to add sidewalks in Cayuga Heights.

With a $535,000 grant, Cayuga Heights will be able to improve sidewalks in the village and create new handicap accessible sidewalks along Kline and Wyckoff Roads, along with concrete curbing, high visibility crosswalks, signage, improved road shoulders, reduced lane widths and other safety enhancements, a news release states. The village is also partnering with Lake View Cemetery to create a safe walking path connecting the village to Ithaca High School and Boynton Middle School.

(Sketch courtesy of the Village of Cayuga Heights)

The Town of Dryden has been awarded $1.5 million to construct a pedestrian bridge over Route 13 near the intersection of Route 366 as part of the Dryden Rail Trail, a non-motorized path in the works that follows the abandoned Lehigh Valley rail corridor. The bridge was the most challenging aspect of the project, a news release from Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer said this week. The funding will also be used to finish three miles of trail surface with stone dust to ADA compliance.

Related: Dryden Rail Trail project gets $1.5 million award

As laid out in the trails strategy, the county wants to build a network of five connected trails — the Black Diamond Trail, the Ithaca-Dryden Trail, the South Hill Recreation Way, the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, the Gateway Trail and Finger Lakes Trail — that when complete will form more than 120 miles of continuously connected trail in Tompkins County. And those could even link up with the in-progress Cayuga Lake Blueway Trail in the future.

Fernando de Aragón, executive director of the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, said building and funding bridges is one of the more difficult pieces of the trail connection project. “Once you build a bridge, the rest of the way is relatively straightforward,” he said.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to go from the Village of Trumansburg to the Village of Dryden, mostly on trails,” de Aragón said. “That’s enough to attract people to visit … it’s certainly going to be a tremendous amenity and a great transportation link for a lot of communities along the way.”

Featured image: Black Diamond Trail. (File Photo courtesy of Jeff Katris)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.