Atascadero trail project hits a legal roadblock

A local conservation group has hit a potentially costly roadblock in its plans to complete a network of walking trails along one of Atascadero’s busiest thoroughfares.

Caltrans officials say they cannot grant a permit that would allow the Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District to finish a trail along Highway 41 between Portola and San Gabriel roads until the local agency brings the pathways into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But the conservation district’s top administrator says the extensive work required by Caltrans is too expensive for the small agency to bear. The group is awaiting approval for what it says is a more cost-effective alternative.

Without the permit, the conservation district will also be unable to fill five gaps in the 1.5-mile trail, which curves around toward a picnic area along Atascadero Creek near San Gabriel Road.

“They basically held the trail hostage,” said D.J. Funk, the conservation group’s executive director.

Atascadero officials and local environmental groups have long touted the trails as a site for outdoor activity that would promote awareness of the region’s natural surroundings.

The local and state agencies butted heads earlier this year after Caltrans officials found that the conservation district is responsible for updating crosswalks to meet modern standards, such as curb cuts for wheelchair access and better drainage.

Caltrans is involved because the conservation district’s route crosses Highway 41 at Portola Road and meanders onto state-owned property.

In a May 18 letter to Atascadero Mayor George Luna, Caltrans District Director Richard Krumholz said his agency’s requirements are designed to create a consistent appearance for the highway.

As the lead agency constructing the trails, the local conservation district is responsible for those improvements, Krumholz wrote.

Funk estimated it would cost the district between $50,000 and $100,000 to upgrade the crosswalk and drainage system to meet the state requirements.

The district has proposed an alternative that would cost about $10,000, substituting asphalt curbs in place of Caltrans’ more elaborate plans.

Funk said that plan meets federal disabled-access requirements. The disagreement, Funk said, has already caused the district to miss a deadline in its Resources Agency Grant, which funded construction of the trails.

The agency must now wait for a reappropriation measure scheduled to come before state legislators next month.

Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said his agency has yet to decide on the district’s alternative. Caltrans supports the trail, he added, but the plans must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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