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Canal walk plans unveiled to public

By Nate Luscombe

Staff Writer

HOLYOKE When Holyoke officials unveiled the basic plans for a new canal walk downtown, some residents were concerned with the costs of the project, and the maintenance costs after the walk is complete.

According to literature distributed at a public hearing last week, the canal walk is a $9 million project, set to be built in three phases. The first phase is expected to cost about $2 million. The project is funded under the Federal Aid Program, and 80 percent of the construction costs will be funded by the Federal Highway Administration, and 20 percent funded by the Commonwealth.

The project will require the city to obtain several temporary right of way easements from landowners on the first and second level canals, as well as a permanent easement, said Jeff Hayden of the city's Department of Economic Development. The total acquisition will amount to almost 43,000 square feet of land.

The two-mile promenade layout follows the first and second level canals, and will connect the canal district with the downtown area and south Holyoke.

The canal walk will function as a planned "necklace" park system, said David Loring of Tighe and Bond Engineering, a firm involved in the design of the project. The walk would connect to the Connecticut River Walk in Chicopee, and the Manhan Rail-Trail in Easthampton, providing the foundation for a biking and walking trail that would run from Agawam to Northampton.

Construction on the project, Loring said, would require some lane closures abutting streets, but those closures would happen during non-peak hours, the literature from the meeting said.

Additional parking will not be included in the first phase of the project, Loring said, but will be included in future phases.

Overall, the response to the canal walk was positive.

"I'm very happy," said City councilor Elaine Pluta. "I'll be the first one down there [when it's finished] enjoying the sun."

John Aubin of Open Square had a similar reaction.

"We give our full support to this project," he said. "It will be a key to development in the downtown area."

The first phase is expected to be advertised for bids this summer, with construction competed 12 to 18 months following the acceptance of a bid.

Some residents raised concerns about the speed of the project getting to its current point.

"Other urban areas have built some trails and walkways similar to this in the amount of time it took the city [to get this far,]" said Holyoke native Craig DellaPenna. He cited Manchester, N.H., which has completed two similar projects, and is currently working on a third.

"I hope we don't see it phased over 10 years. We can't wait that long," he added.

"The faster the better," said Carlos Vega, who said he's looking forward to the canal walk connecting the Main Street and High Street neighborhoods. "Make sure it happens so that downtown begins the Renaissance that I know is there."