ALBANY - New York lawmakers are poised to approve spending $200 million to complete a statewide recreational trail, despite initially raising concerns over Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan.
The state Assembly approved a budget bill Friday that includes the funding, which Cuomo sought to expand the state's existing trailway systems along the Erie Canal and Hudson River.
The 750-mile Empire State Trail will close gaps on the existing Erie Canalway Trail and Hudson River Valley Greenway system, ultimately connecting Buffalo to Albany and New York City to the Canadian border when it's finished in 2020.
Cuomo proposed the trail in January, billing it as an opportunity to market the state's recreation opportunities and outdoor tourism hotspots. But lawmakers and the public had signaled concern.
Both the Senate and Assembly stripped the funding out of their budget proposals, while just 38 percent of New York voters supported the plan in a February poll by Siena College.
Cuomo ultimately got his wish: The Senate is also expected to approve the funding as part of any final budget, clearing way for work on the trail system to soon begin.
The final pieces of the state budget have yet to be approved. The fiscal year started April 1.
"The Empire State Trail, once completed, will be the nation’s largest state multi-use trail network, providing residents and visitors alike unprecedented access to New York's outdoor treasures," Cuomo said when he unveiled the trail.
Work will begin this year on the first phase of construction, which calls for 73 miles of trail connections, including the gap along the Erie Canal trail between Lyons and Port Byron in Wayne and Cayuga counties.
In all, the trail project will span three phases and include 352 miles of new or rebuilt trail.
The state funding is coming from two pots: one controlled by the state Power Authority because they run the state canal system and the other by the Hudson River Valley Greenway for the north-south proportion.
Critics of the trail said they are better uses for the $200 million.
Sen. Rich Funke, who heads the Senate's parks and recreation committee, said he's not opposed to expanding the state's trails, but said there are more pressing needs in New York, such as repairing the state's roads and bridges.
"I’m not happy about it," Funke, R-Perinton, Monroe County, said of the trail money. "The money could be spent in other ways."
Includes reporting by Albany Bureau Chief Joseph Spector.
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