Village hopes for rail museum

Next stop: Museum depot? Voorheesville officials plan to apply for a Federal Highway Administration grant to create a rail museum in Voorheesville where a rail trail starts that may one day reach Albany. Volunteers have improved bridges on the trail, like this one over the Vly Creek. A three-mile section of the trail in New Scotland opened last December. Added to 1.9 miles of completed hiking trail in neighboring Bethlehem, that is more than half the distance of the nine-mile trail that goes to South Pearl Street in Albany.

Miles to go: Albany County purchased a rail corridor from the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 2009 with funding from New York State Parks and Scenic Hudson, a not-for-profit land trust. The Friends Of the Rail Trail, known as FORT, a committee of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, working with Albany County, the towns of New Scotland and Bethlehem, and the village of Voorheesville have helped, as have businesses and individuals. The latest plan is to build a grant-funded museum and parking lot at the start of the trail in Voorheesville with the hope of increasing traffic in the village’s business district.

VOORHEESVILLE — Village officials expressed excitement Tuesday for a grant that could allow the village to develop the Grove Street trailhead of the rail trail with a rail museum and additional parking — plans that could lead to increased traffic in Voorheesville’s downtown business district.

The nine-mile trail that reaches from South Pearl Street in Albany and runs through the towns of Bethlehem and New Scotland includes a three-mile section now open in New Scotland, with its end, or beginning, in the village.

In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that $50 million in federal funding was available statewide from the Federal Highway Administration. The state’s Department of Transportation will administer the program, which will fund a variety of alternative transportation projects, including the construction of bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Village Engineer Rich Straut, of Barton & Loguidice, said that rail trail projects, and projects that promote economic development, would be eligible for grants ranging from $200,000 to $2 million out of the state’s $50 million allotment.

A project like a rail museum, restrooms, and parking would make “a great terminus of this whole rail trail,” Straut said. “Multi-jurisdictional always gives you points,” he said, referring to the villages, towns, city, and county involved on the rail trail.

The village trailhead, at the corner of Grove Street and Voorheesville Avenue, opened in December 2013. Though only open for foot traffic, the path will eventually be upgraded for cyclists.

Mayor Robert Conway described the possible construction of a small museum structure with restrooms, and others suggested the use of a caboose, at the Grove Street entrance.

“Kind of making it a little bit more than we’ve been talking about,” Conway said. “We’re going to see if we can tap into that [funding].”

Trustee David Cardona suggested the construction of an observation tower — a suggestion he said would appeal to local train fans who already flock to the village to see engines on CSX’s operational village line.

Conway said that a small development at the trailhead would have “little impact on residential areas,” as the nearest house is much farther down Main Street.

“I like it a lot,” said Cardona.

The village has considered creating a rougher, but accessible, parking area for the village’s Pine Street entrance to the rail trail. Board members noted previously that, if parking is not provided, visitors of the trail would park on the streets or on private property.

Grants will be awarded in June, Straut said, and work would need to wait until the following construction season at the Grove Street entrance. The board agreed that grading and cutting a path at Pine Street could begin this year, and be included in the combined project’s total cost under in-kind services.

“Keep track for anything you do,” Straut told the village.

Trustee Brett Hotaling agreed to be the board liaison for the project.

Conway said that he wants a “broad spectrum” of people involved to serve on a planning committee.

According to Cuomo’s office, up to 80 percent of the approved projects’ costs could be covered.

“We are looking for projects that can grow local economies and create jobs, while also contributing to cleaner and more resilient communities for years to come,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Previous development of the trail sections in the village and in the town of New Scotland were financed with $17,000 donated by private contributors, the Voorheesville School and Community Foundation, and the town of New Scotland. The funds were used to update two bridges on the rail trail with safety fencing designed to protect pedestrians and drivers. In-kind donations of work by volunteers kept the cost at $17,000.

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