Saturday, February 6, 2016

Save the Putnam Trail asks Engel for action

By Adam Wisnieski
Adam Wisnieski
A cyclist makes his way down the Putnam Trail in Van Cortlandt Park.

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.

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