BENNINGTON — Progress has been made on the much-anticipated Ninja Path.
Ground was broken this summer on one segment that runs from Bennington College to the Hampton Inn; it's slated to be paved sometime next month. A longer segment continues south to Hicks Avenue and, while it won't be paved this year, will be open for use.
When completed in a few years, the 2.12-mile paved trail for pedestrians and cyclists will run from Bennington College south along the Walloomsac River, behind the Morse Industrial Park and new Walmart, and end at the pedestrian bridge on Hicks Avenue.
Officials need permits and easements before they can access the $1.1 million in federal funding awarded to the project last September, according to Dan Monks, assistant town manager and planning director.
"But we didn't want folks to have to wait to use it," Monks said Wednesday. "We're building an interim path that will run the same route. So people will be able to use a dirt and gravel path which, although not perfect, will be functional."
The town of Bennington and Bennington College worked together on what was dubbed "phase one." Town highway crews broke ground on a 1,600-foot trail segment last month. Monks estimated the out-of-pocket costs to be about $85,000. Both the town and Bennington College funded phase one. The cost was reduced because the town used its own equipment, materials and labor, Monks said. The project also includes improvements in front of Bennington College. New signs, flashing lighted beacons and a center island aim to increase safety at the intersection of Route 67A, Matteson and Silk Roads, and College Drive.
Phase two, funded by the town, is a dirt trail connecting the end of phase one to the Hicks Avenue pedestrian bridge. It will allow people to use the path until the final, paved path is designed, permitted and completed.
Officials are now developing a conceptual design for phase three, which involves paving the segment south of the Hampton Inn to Harmon Road, according to Mark Anders, transportation program manager with the Bennington County Regional Commission. He said it could take two or three years before permitting, easements and environmental permissions are secured.
A fourth phase, which would involve paving a segment between Harmon Road and the Hicks Avenue bridge, would need additional funding.
The Ninja Path project grew out of a resident-led effort to clear and widen trails for a bike path. Volunteers created a patchwork trail system several years ago on sidewalks and, with permission from owners, privately-owned land. It's one of several similar trail projects the town is pursuing. The town received a Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) grant and a scoping study was completed in 2015. The project got a $1.1 million grant last September; the federal funds were administered by VTrans' bicycle and pedestrian program. Federal grants come with requirements, among them, a 10 percent local match through money or in-kind services. BCRC is the project manager and MSK Engineering and Design is the design consultant.
The segment near Bennington College starts near the Hampton Inn and heads north, running parallel with Route 67A. It splits into two branches -- one for pedestrians, another for cyclists -- before Bennington College. Pedestrians will follow a direct route along Route 67A and cross just east of Silk Road. A new "refuge island" will be built in Route 67A so pedestrians only have to cross one lane of traffic at a time, Monks said.
The bicycle branch runs through a college-owned property, crosses Silk Road about 200 feet below Route 67A, and runs through another college-owned property before straightening out opposite to the Bennington College entrannce, or College Drive.
Monks said the town appreciates the college's willingness to collaborate on the project.
"They've been a great partner on this so far, and we expect them to partner with us on this in the future," Monks said.
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.