State Officials Announce $27 Million Plan to Close Empire State Trail Gap

May 1, 2019

The state says that the trail will drive economic growth and boost tourism in communities along its route.
Credit Scott Willis/WAER News

State officials say they’re ready to spend $27 million to close the current 14-mile gap in the Empire State Trail between Dewitt and Camillus.  It’s part of a 300 mile stretch that roughly follows the old Erie Canal between Buffalo and Albany. 

Executive Director of the trail Andy Beers says the gap here is the largest in the system.

"If you've ever ridden the Erie Canalway Trail, good luck getting through the city of Syracuse and when you get to DeWitt let us know, right, or whichever direction you're heading. And so this has been one of the real quandaries of how to create a safe and inviting trail route."

Major parts of the plan include a pedestrian bridge over I-481 from the trailhead in DeWitt to Towpath Road.   DeWitt Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko says there's a pond where Towpath meets Bridge Street.

"It's really been treated for the last 100 years like a storm water runoff facility, a drainage ditch for the road system. We're looking to put a pocket park that will be a gem along this entire canal system." 

From Bridge Street, Erie Boulevard will be reduced to four lanes, with the trail down the middle of the wider median until Beech Street.  Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon says he’s glad it will connect to the Loop the Lake Trail, which the county is spending nine million dollars to complete. 

Director of the Empire State Trail Andy Beers says the canal is still evolving.
Credit Scott Willis/WAER News

"What Onondaga County continues to do is give access back to the community that lost that access for generations. And we continue to use this as tool to grow our economy to showcase what we're doing in Central New York."

The trail will also run through the state fairgrounds, which is committing half a million dollars for a gateway center inside gate 2.  Honeywell will fund the final three miles of the trail from Solvay to Camillus.  Officials say construction could begin late this summer or early fall, and be complete by spring of 2021. 

Beers says the development is all part of the continuing evolution of the canal. 

"Fittingly, 200 years later, we are going to reactivate this Erie Canal route for a new purpose. It's no longer about mules pulling little packet boats, but it's going to be part of the economic vitality, the public health and the quality of life here in the Syracuse area." 

Some of the specific projects for the trail include: 

  • The New York State Department of Transportation will connect the Erie Boulevard corridor between DeWitt and Syracuse by expanding and enhancing existing bike lanes and pedestrian trails. This $27 million project includes reducing Erie Boulevard by one lane in each direction between Beech and Bridge Streets to create an off-road bike and pedestrian trail.
  • Onondaga County will invest $9 million to extend the Loop the Lake Trail around Onondaga Lake, including building a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the CSX railroad tracks at the southern end the lake, making a crucial connection to downtown Syracuse.
  • Honeywell Corporation will complete construction of the Loop the Lake Trail on the southwest side of Onondaga Lake, and will build a new 3.5-mile off-road trail from the lake west to Camillus. The new trail is one of the natural resource mitigation projects Honeywell is completing as part of its Onondaga Lake cleanup efforts.
  • The New York State Fair will invest $500,000 to create an Empire State Trail Gateway to welcome bicyclists and trail visitors to the fairgrounds.
    The current 14-mile gap through Camillus, Syracuse and DeWitt represents the largest gap in the Erie Canalway section of the Empire State Trail.
    Credit New York State