Thursday, July 27, 2017

No guarantee Hamilton’s waterfront trail will open this summer

Jul 26, 2017 by Matthew Van Dongen  Hamilton Spectator

Uncertainty over the extent of flood damage to Hamilton's waterfront trail means there is no guarantee the popular path will reopen this summer.

The mystery timeline has upset users of one of the city's most popular trails and forced the relocation of cycling and running scheduled as far ahead as September.

Record spring water levels flooded large swaths of the trail in April, prompting the city to fence off the paved path between Princess Point and Bayfront Park.

Water levels have since receded — spurring pointed questions from residents as well as trespassing — but not enough for the city to assess damage to the trail caused by flooding and pounding waves.

"We know people are impatient, we are getting all those questions. We hope to have the answers soon," said parks manager Kara Bunn, who is waiting on a final assessment and recommendations from consultant Shoreplan Engineering. "But we know for sure some sections are unsafe."

The Spectator paddled alongside and, at one point, over top the trail Tuesday to eyeball the damage.

The only remaining drowned section of paved trail includes several metres curving around Cootes Paradise and across from Princess Point.

But asphalt is clearly crumbling into Hamilton Harbour at several locations between the mouth of the Desjardins Canal and the temporary gate near Bayfront Park. In a few spots, the water has clearly undermined the path, despite temporary canvas barriers and sandbags visible along the shoreline.

That hasn't stopped people from hopping the fence at either end of the trail — or cutting holes in the gate, an option clearly on display at Princess Point Tuesday.

At least 70 people were recorded passing an automatic counter along a closed section of trail near Bayfront Park on a recent Sunday evening, for example.

Regular trail cyclist Randy Kay said he would feel less frustrated about the closure if the city would provide progress updates or timelines.

"There's been very little communication, which is pretty surprising given how much use this trail gets," he said.

The city's own website suggests the section of trail from Princess Point through the Desjardins canal sees about 6,670 trips in a "peak week," for example.

"Whether you look at it from a commuter standpoint or a recreational standpoint, it is just such an important part of our (cycling) infrastructure," he said.

The city believes it will cost more than $1 million to fix the trail, but isn't otherwise ready to publicly guess at specific repair costs or timelines.

But the organizer of upcoming MEC cycling and running races slated for two weekends in late September has been forced to reroute several hundred athletes away from the waterfront trail.

"It's a shame, because it's such a beautiful location. People look forward to it," said co-ordinator Ryan Brown, who had to relocate the Bayfront Breezer running race to the Dundas Valley and reroute cyclists on the Century Ride through Hamilton onto parallel streets near the water.

"But really, it's just as tough for all active Hamiltonians, because this trail is just such a hub of activity."

Kay said he'd love for the city to consider opening the trail in instalments, or with temporary safety fencing around damaged areas, rather than waiting for a permanent fix.

The city is looking at that option, but there are no guarantees, Bunn said.

She said the consultant will provide drawings of possible permanent or temporary solutions depending on the extent of the damage. It's taken a long time to evaluate the flood and wave-pounding erosion because the water levels remain high.

"It's a wide path, but it's also one that is used at a fairly high speed," she said, pointing to cyclists and in-line skaters who travel in both directions. "We need to know what we have room to do safely."
905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

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