Save the Putnam Trail asks Engel for action

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The Save the Putnam Trail campaign has gone federal.

Members of the local campaign, who do not want to see the Putnam Trail in Van Cortlandt Park paved or expanded, want Rep. Eliot Engel to reroute the $1.45 million earmarked for the project to a different transportation project.

But it might not be that easy. Mr. Engel said if the money is not used for the Putnam Trail, it will be lost.

“If you redirect the money, you’ll find out you’re going to lose it,” he said.

The money is a federal earmark dating back to 2005’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, more commonly called the transportation bill or the highway bill. Mr. Engel earmarked $500,000 and Rep. Anthony Weiner earmarked $950,000 for fixing up the Putnam Trail, according to Mr. Engel’s office.

It is unclear why Mr. Weiner would earmark money for a project outside his own district, but the transportation bill coincides with his mayoral campaign in 2005.

Michael Oliva, who leads Save the Putnam Trail, said he would like to see the money used for stone dust paving. Since he believes that would cost less than asphalt paving (a contention others disagree with), he said the leftover funds should be used for a high-priority project, such as traffic calming around a school or fixing a “deadly intersection.”

He said he disagrees with the process for earmarks, which do not require public input into projects that affect the public. 

“With federal earmarks, applications don’t even have to be submitted so the public or anybody gets to see what the project looks like,” he said.

Mr. Engel said he isn’t interested in the project’s specifics and that the earmark was just an attempt to bring money into his district. 

“I just get the money. Whoever’s in charge of making those decisions, God bless them. I’m the money guy. I bring the dollars home,” he said.

The Save the Putnam Trail campaign, however, is all about specifics.

Mr. Oliva, coordinator of the Holiday Marathon races in Van Cortlandt Park, said stone dust is better than asphalt for runners and his group has gotten support from the Van Cortlandt Park Track Club.

Proponents of Parks’ plan, however, say they want to see a continuous asphalt trail that will look and feel like the portion north of Vannie in Yonkers. 

Plans submitted for public comment by the Parks Department show a trail 15 feet wide, which includes a ten-foot asphalt path, three-foot earthen jogging path and two-foot buffer. 

Save the Putnam Trail wants the total width to be only eight feet, all of which would be a stone dust surface, while advocates for the paving plan also say that stone dust is bad for bikes and the three-foot path for runners included in the plan should be sufficient.

Like Mr. Engel, however, the earmark does not take a stand on such specifics. 

The $950,000 allocation reads, “Design and construct a bicycle and pedestrian walkway along the decommissioned Putnam Rail Line.” The $500,000 allocation reads, “Redesign and reconstruction of the Putnam Rail-Trail, Bronx.”

Mr. Oliva said the wording fits in with what the Save the Putnam Trail campaign would like to see.

He also researched numerous projects from around the country, including in Buffalo, and said earmarked money was rerouted to other projects at the requests of members of congress.

Now Save the Putnam Trail is calling on Mr. Engel to do the same. 

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