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Downtown bike path finally starts construction

Date: 5/26/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

CHICOPEE -- The idea brought to the city's attention by City Councilor William Zaskey in 1979 is finally coming to fruition.

On Friday morning, city and state officials gathered for the groundbreaking of the first segment of the bike path and river walk along the Chicopee River that will eventually extend from the historical sycamore trees in the center of downtown to the Uniroyal/Facemate site.

The initial leg of the path will be 1,100 feet of paved walkway that is suitable for bike riders, walkers and will be fully handicapped accessible. The $800,000 project will also include decorative lighting, fencing, seating, retaining walls, plantings, signage and historical markers. The plaza that overlooks the path across the street from City Hall will also be redesigned with new seating and plantings.

The segment will end at Grape Street.

Mayor Michael Bissonnette thanked State Rep. Joseph Wagner and the Chicopee legislative delegation for their help in securing the $800,000 in state funds for the project. Construction is to start this summer and continue through the end of the construction season this year. The majority of the work is expected to be concluded this year.

Zaskey recalled that when he first came onto the City Council he advocated for the creation of the trail and did so again when he came back onto the board in 1994. He sees the bike path as "really beneficial to the citizens of the community."

Zaskey said he has walked on the railroad tracks along the river several times. "It's a beautiful area," he noted.

He added the new Chicopee Library was constructed to take advantage of the bike path.

The project officially began in 2002 when the city was awarded $57,000 from the state's Urban Rivers Program for the design. The $800,000 was allocated in 2006.

Bissonnette said the bike path would be 2.2 miles when completed.

The mayor added that he had been "on board" the plan since the first week of his administration when Zaskey took him to meet with Timothy Brennan, the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to discuss the project.

City Councilor Chuck Swider, whose ward includes the bike path, said the path is going to be a "great asset" to the downtown area and aid in its economic development.