Dear Trail Enthusiasts:
Thank you for your interest in Trail Advocates of Summit County. We know it’s been a while since you have heard from us. As you may recall, we are advocating for a multi-purpose trail – called the Veterans Trail - to be built on the abandoned railroad right-of-way that runs 12.5 miles from Hudson through Stow, Silver Lake, Cuyahoga Falls, and ends in Akron at the Northside Station. About 90% of that ROW is owned by Metro RTA – the bus company for Summit County.
Where We Have Been
Since it has been so long since TASCforce has provided an update, let’s start this review from the beginning of 2022. At that time, things were going very well. A second $700,000 grant had just been awarded for 3.3 more miles of the ROW in Stow and Hudson to be converted to trail. That brought the total length of trail that was funded and being planned to 4.8 miles – or about 38% of the full 12.5 miles available. Design work was anticipated to begin as early as July 2023.
But before that could happen, Metro RTA needed to negotiate leases with the communities that the new trail would pass through and get them approved by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This was the same process that was followed in 2009 when Metro RTA leased another abandoned rail line to Summit MetroParks to build the Freedom Trail connecting Akron to Kent. The reason that FTA approval was required was that Metro RTA had used FTA funds to acquire the railroad line back in 2003.
However, when Metro approached FTA for approval in mid-2022, the project went “off the rails” in a manner of speaking. The FTA stated that the laws had changed and that they could no longer allow Metro to lease the right-of-way to build a trail. In fact, FTA pointed out that the lease for the Freedom Trail no longer complied with FTA regulations.
What FTA now requires is for Metro RTA to either pay back the money that was borrowed or divest itself of the properties. FTA specified seven means by which Metro RTA could satisfy their requirements and asked Metro to inform them of which one they intended to pursue. This all unfolded by the fall of 2022. Since that time, TASCforce has asked for updates on how Metro plans to pursue this, but for more than one year now, we have not been able to get any real information.
Meanwhile, there is some good news. The remaining 10% of right-of-way at the extreme north end is owned by Norfolk Southern – not Metro RTA. It is about one mile in length and goes from Barlow Road north to Veterans Way and Veterans Park in downtown Hudson. Several attempts to contact NS about it were made by Hudson in 2019, but there was never any response from them. Then as a result of the tragic train derailment in East Palestine, OH, NS started talking to the communities that their tracks ran through – including Hudson. Surprisingly, NS now indicates an interest in selling that parcel and Hudson City Council has expressed strong interest in acquiring it. So, an effort to acquire that piece of the right-of-way is moving forward and could be completed by the end of this year.
Where We Are Going
TASCforce always knew that this project would take years to complete. However, it has been extremely frustrating to just “sit without any real updates from Metro RTA and let the process play out.” Not only is this roadblock putting $1.5 M in approved grants at risk, but it is also preventing any progress on both the approved sections and the remaining sections. Furthermore, by Metro RTA working in a vacuum, there is higher risk that whatever plans they make may not support the desires of the other stakeholders in this project.
So, TASCforce’s strategy for 2024 is as follows:
1. Continue to advocate with Metro RTA for the right-of-way to be converted to a multi-purpose trail. This is just too good of an opportunity to let it die on the vine. We will pursue this by:
a. Attending Board Meetings to show support for the trail.
b. Convincing Metro RTA and the FTA that a trail is the “highest and best use” of the right-of-way.
c. Demonstrating public support for the trail through letters and emails.
d. Submitting Freedom-of-Information requests to gain more information.
e. Communicating any solid information gained to the other stakeholders.
f. Getting local newspapers to report on the situation.
2. Continue to encourage and support the City of Hudson in their attempts to acquire the Norfolk Southern right-of-way.
3. Look for other trail opportunities to advocate for where TASCforce could make a positive impact.
In closing, we would just say that this endeavor is incredibly complicated. TASCforce values ideas and suggestions from all trail enthusiasts. We will continue to provide updates when there is significant news to share but, in the meantime, let’s all keep the faith that this will work out in our favor and that we will all someday be riding, running, or walking down the Veterans Trail.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Joseph P. Kennedy