By Phyllis A. Muzeroll
CLAREMONT, NH–The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has denied a waiver request to allow ATVs on a City-owned, two-mile stretch of rail trail used to connect to a State-owned recreation trail despite a recommendation by the NH Department of Transportation that it do so.
In 2015 the City requested a waiver to the requirements of 23 USC 217, which prohibits motorized vehicle use on bicycle and pedestrian walkways built with Transportation Enhancement funds. As part of the waiver process, NHDOT was to provide FHWA NH Division Office a recommendation in accordance with FHWA’s “Framework for Considering Motorized Use on Non-motorized Trails and Pedestrian Walkways under 23 USC 217”, which it did.
A letter dated July 7, 2016, from the FHWA NH Division Office was received by NHDOT, denying the waiver request, stating that it continues to interpret that 23 USC 217 applies in this case and that the law prohibits motorized use on the Transportation Enhancement acquired trail, that the office feels the exception request was incomplete pending further evaluation analysis and consideration of reasonable options and offers other options for consideration by the City and/or the State, as well as potential funding sources for additional work.
Patrick Bauer, Division Administrator, wrote that “The City’s original application and environmental documentation stated that the intended use was for pedestrian and bicycle use, with winter snowmobile use. The application does not mention potential OHV use.”
Bauer recommended that the City and State consider other options that “may not require an exception, including providing an alternate OHV route along the river or an alternate route that crosses the river on a new right-of-way or determine whether or not it would be legal and appropriate for such vehicles to use designated highways, highway shoulders or streets within the City to connect trail riding areas and access to businesses.” There is also the option for the City to pay back the federal funds invested in the corridor, about $258,000, and then be able to use the corridor for motorized use.
At the time the City filed the waiver request with the feds, City officials were told that the agency had never approved such an application.
William Watson, Administrator of the Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance with the State, told Jane Taylor in part in a letter dated July 8 that the “City of Claremont put a tremendous amount of time and effort into this request and has been very responsive with all of the follow-up questions that have been posed by the NH FHWA Division office since receiving the request.”
The section in question runs along from behind the community center to Chestnut Street; it crosses the Sugar River to Washington Street where it connects to the State-owned Sugar River Recreation Trail which allows ATVs.
“The Sullivan County ATV Club is disappointed, but not defeated,” said Dianne Harlow, regarding the decision. ” SCATV will hold their regular membership meeting on Monday, July 18th, at 7:00 p.m. to see what our options are. We have invited the City Councilors, the City Manager
and the City Solicitor to this open meeting.”
The meeting will be held at the CSB Community Center.
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