The one-third-of-a-mile extension of the Merchantville Bike Path will connect cyclists and pedestrians to green spaces, with safe crossings over Route 130, while cleaning up a blighted railway trestle.
By Matt Skoufalos and Danielle Ciampaglia | September 2, 2021
A planned expansion of biking and walking trails that will connect neighboring Merchantville and Pennsauken with each other—and the larger, regional Circuit Trails network—is in the works, and residents can preview the project in person tonight.
Starting at 5:30 at the intersection of West Chestnut Avenue and Euclid Street in Pennsauken, “Trail Fun Night” will highlight the planned Pennsauken-Merchantville Trail, which will connect to the broader Burlington-Camden Trail.
The Circuit Trails network comprises hundreds of miles of multi-use pathways throughout in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, connecting commuters and recreational travelers with cycling and walking access to communities across the region.
Accessibility is fundamental to community-building, said Merchantville Mayor Ted Brennan, who believes that inclusivity extends beyond municipal borders.
“I like to always say ‘I’m the mayor of Merchantville, but our community is so much larger than that,’” Brennan said. “Providing those opportunities to our residents—that connectivity, I think—makes Merchantville a more enticing place to live.
“I just think all of these opportunities, and connecting the burrough to the larger [Circuit Trails] network, is great because it allows opportunities for people to come see who we are, but also provides opportunities for our residents to connect to the outside communities and see what they have to offer,” he said.
Outdoor recreation has long been a public priority in Pennsauken, said Mayor Marco DiBattista, who envisions the Pennsauken-Merchantville Path as a linchpin to drawing greater interest in the township waterfront recreation areas.
“We are dedicated to outside spaces for a multitude of reasons,” DiBattista said. “It is a way to revitalize people’s lives just to walk out and have somewhere to go. That trail isn’t far from our 49th street park, off River Road, which has a trail to take you to Tipton’s Pond, and then to our pickleball courts.
“We want this to be an area where you can come out of your house, hop on one of these trails, bring your dog, your kids, and have a place to sit down and congregate,” he said.
“We want people to be able to go to the soccer fields, have lunch, play in the park, and make a whole day of being outside [within] our own town.”
The project will also clean up an area of railway that has been prone to illegal dumping and other accumulated disrepair, which DiBattista said has long been a municipal concern.
Moreover, said Anya Saretzky, Project Manager for Trail Development in the Northeast Office of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, it will provide bicyclists and pedestrians with a safe crossing over busy Route 130 and into Burlington County.
Saretzky said that reusing the old railroad trestle will provide a critical safe crossing over Route 130, which is one of the most dangerous roads for pedestrians in the state.
Vittorio Anepete, Senior Project Manager of Transportation Engineering at the Mount Laurel-based civil engineering firm McCormick Taylor, said the one-third-mile project could cost around $750,000 to construct.
Those funds have been earmarked through a federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant, which is administered through the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) as local aid. Once the finalized plan is submitted, the project could be built and completed by the end of 2022, Anepete said.
Principally, that money will cover cleanup of the abandoned railroad tracks and the construction of a 528-yard, one-foot-wide asphalt pathway, extending the Merchantville Bike Path across Cove Road via a railroad trestle over the NJ Transit Atlantic City line.
It will also pay for the installation of ADA-compliant curb ramps, crosswalks, rapid flash beacons, pedestrian lighting, and pavement markings; as well as four feet of sidewalk connecting the trail to Norwood Avenue.
Finally, the grant also will cover the construction of stormwater management swales to offset the new paving; rest areas with benches, trash cans, and pet waste cans; fencing along nearby commercial properties; shade trees and landscaping; and a trail turnaround at its eastern endpoint.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to take land that’s blighted and improve it, and make it a benefit for the community, a recreational asset and a visual improvement for the homes and businesses that border there,” Anepete said.
“The section of trail we’re doing is heavily overgrown; a lot of dumping’s going on there, [and there are] refuse piles from industrial uses,” he said.
“It’s a good first start to get the people excited about what the potential is to connect it to Route 73, and complete that part of the Circuit Trails,” Anepete said.
Trail Fun Night is sponsored by the Camden County Board of Commissioners, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Rails to Trails Conservancy, The Circuit Trails, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Register for the event here.
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