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December 8, 2023

City, nonprofit development team eye $65M rail trail from downtown Hartford to Bloomfield

IQuilt Partnership A rendering of the envisioned hARTline rail trail that would extend from Hartford to Bloomfield.

A planned six-mile, $65 million pedestrian and bike rail trail stretching from downtown Hartford’s Union Station to Bloomfield’s town center could be completed within five years, the project’s designer said. 

This hARTline trail is by far the most modest of three transportation initiatives Hartford-based nonprofit development group The iQuilt Partnership plans to pursue in the run-up to Hartford’s 400th anniversary in 2035. 

The other two involve capping portions of Interstates 84 and 91, and eliminating interchanges that cover vast portions of Hartford and East Hartford. The idea is to open up room to develop new neighborhoods; create more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly urban centers; and reconnect Hartford with a riverfront long blocked by flood barriers and highways. 

“We used to be a riverfront city, but flooding and freeways changed us from a riverfront city to a riverfront highway, and you can barely see the river anymore,” urban designer and architect Doug Suisman told members of the Capital Region Development Authority board during a Wednesday meeting. 

The hARTline comes with a cost estimate of $65 million, compared to tens-of-billions of dollars for the larger highway-capping and reconfiguration envisioned in the award-winning Hartford 400 plan, which Suisman helped develop. 

Suisman and other proponents see the trail as an achievable “near-term” objective that could help build a case for the larger-scale highway redesigns. 

Suisman estimated the hARTline could become a reality within two to five years.

Reconnected neighborhoods

Hartford officials and nonprofit leaders are currently assembling $2.4 million to fund the design of the trail line. The Hartford 400 plan envisions a spur using expanded city sidewalks past Dunkin’ Park to Market Street, where a pedestrian bridge would carry cyclists and pedestrians over Interstate 91 and into Riverside Park by the municipal boathouse. 

An existing pedestrian bridge that crosses the highway is seen as unattractive, intimidating and underused, so the plan is to replace or refurbish it. 

The hARTline would connect with a network of trails reaching other communities and, ultimately, could serve as Hartford’s contribution to the planned 3,000-mile “East Coast Greenway” pedestrian and bicycle route stretching from Maine to Florida.

“Construction of the hARTline will reconnect multiple Hartford neighborhoods to each other and to the banks of the Connecticut River, thereby fostering economic development, promoting tourism, and improving mobility within the city for a diversity of users,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin wrote in a memo to the city council.

A Hartford city council subcommittee, on Wednesday, endorsed acceptance of a $1.5 million state grant to use for the trail design. This funding will be partnered with a $900,000 federal grant to the iQuilt Partnership.

Jackie Mandyck, executive director of iQuilt, said the proposed trail will create better access to the riverfront for residents in north Hartford. 

While a precise timeline has not yet been established, Mandyck estimated trail designs could be completed as early as 2026, with construction starting that year, or in 2027.

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