Bucks County's Newtown Rail Trail has become a path to nowhere, at least for now.
In a 3-2 vote Wednesday night, Northampton Township supervisors rejected an engineering study for their piece of the proposed eight-mile trail, vetoing the next step in a plan to convert an unused SEPTA line into a bike and walking path that would connect to Montgomery County's Pennypack Trail.
Bucks County officials say they plan to fund the Newtown Rail Trail through grants, but critics have argued that costs could be passed on to the township and its residents. The trail has the support of the other municipalities through which it would run: Newtown Borough and Newtown Township, Middletown, and Upper Southampton Township.
Northampton would be home to 4.5 miles of the trail, its longest segment. Lynn Bush, executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission, said Thursday the county would go back to the other municipalities to "determine the best way to continue." County officials also will focus on ongoing trail projects in other parts of Bucks, she said.
Wednesday's vote was a victory for some Northampton homeowners who had opposed the plan, concerned that the trail would bring crime and trespassing, among other troubles, to their neighborhoods.
"It was a triumph of common sense by three of the supervisors," said Bruce Stamm, president of the Jordan Corners Homeowners Association, whose members own 34 houses that abut the trail.
He said costs to homeowners would have included installing fences, security systems, and other safety measures.
Trail advocates have lauded the plan as a beneficial exercise and commuting route. It would link to the 5.4-mile Pennypack Trail and add a segment to the Circuit, an initiative to create 750 miles of connected trail through the Philadelphia region.
Ken Boyle, chairman of the volunteer group Bike Bucks County, called the Newtown trail a "community asset."
"With every rail-to-trail conversion, there are adjacent homeowners that are potentially adversely affected. And naturally they're nervous and concerned," Boyle said. "I just think the township and county did a poor job of helping residents understand the impact."
In a letter Thursday, all three Bucks County commissioners rebutted claims by Northampton Township officials and some residents that county officials had not adequately answered their questions. The commissioners noted that the county had made several presentations to the township, and that they suggested Northampton supervisors confer with officials from communities that already have trail systems.
"During their Dec. 14 meeting, three of the five Northampton Township supervisors chose to hide behind their own fabricated history of the rail trail discussions, blaming Bucks County officials for their own lack of leadership," they said in the letter.
The two Northampton supervisors who voted for the study said it would provide needed information.
Larry Weinstein, chairman of the supervisors and one of the three who voted against the study, said it would not adequately address issues of quality of life and safety.
"As an elected official," he said, "I didn't want to be responsible for inflicting a substantial burden on a number of our residents."