By David Mark
Posted Jul. 27, 2016 at 9:31 AM
At a ceremony in Maynard on July 21, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the towns of Acton and Maynard met to oversee and celebrate groundbreaking for the $6.7 million construction of 3.4 miles of the Assabet River Rail Trial in the two towns. Completion of this part of the trail is planned for spring 2018.
MassDOT Highway Administrator Tom Tinlin joined local legislators, Acton and Maynard town managers, project engineers and ARRT volunteers in front of an audience of about 80 people to formally break ground on this project. State Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Reps. Kate Hogan and Cory Atkins spoke about the years of planning to get state funding.
Town Managers Kevin Sweet (Maynard) and Roland Bartl (Acton) described how this project will make both towns friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists; both also noted that their towns are participating in the state’s Complete Streets program. Bartl pointed out that completing this northern end of the Assabet River Rail Trail leaves a gap between the two ends, and that all involved parties are committed to exploring means to close the gap, either along the original train route or alternatives.
Maynard Board of Selectmen Chairman Chris DiSilva welcomed the increased number of visitors the trail will bring to Maynard businesses. Chris also recognized the long years of involvement by ARRT volunteers Thomas Kelleher and Duncan Power. Janet Adachi, vice chair of the Acton Board of Selectmen, acknowledged all towns’ employees and former employees who had worked to bring this project to fruition, as well as the people of design and engineering companies, such as Rebecca Williamson of Greenman-Pedersen Inc., who have spent years on the details.
The contractor for this multiyear project is D’Allessandro Corp., a Massachusetts-based company with lots of experience in road, sidewalk, park and water management projects. This expertise will stand them in good stead for constructing the trail through the middle of Maynard as it crosses many roads: Route 117, Sudbury Street, Main Street, Florida Road, Summer Street, Acton Street, Concord Street and Acton Street again just before entering Acton.
A construction timeline has been set. Much of the work — especially through downtown Maynard — will be completed in 2016. Two bridges and a boardwalk spanning a wetlands area in Acton will be completed in 2017, as will final paving. Late 2017 to early 2018 will see installation of fences, benches, signage and landscaping, including the planting of hundreds of trees.
Work in earnest has already begun. Trail sections are being blocked off with fencing and signs. Already, large trees that had grown next to and in some places over the abandoned rails were cut to create an 18-foot-wide swath from Summer to Concord streets in Maynard.
The tree cutting process was quite a sight, as a Caterpillar CAT521B with a tree-felling head weighs in at just under 70,000 pounds and can cut trees up to 22 inches in diameter in a few seconds. Each cut tree was carefully laid on it side, and the CAT moved on. The next day, different equipment dragged all the trees to the north end, to be stuffed into a supersized wood chipper — stumps to be dealt with later.
In addition to the trail being closed, much of the parking along the affected parts of Main Street, Railroad Street and the parking lots behind the post office, Gruber Bros, CVS, Subway, The Outdoor Store and China Ruby is being temporarily blocked off.
Among permanent changes planned for Maynard: Ice House Landing, off of Winter Street, will have a paved parking lot; some parking will be lost behind the post office and from the town lot behind CVS and the Outdoor Store; and part of Maplebrook Park (corner Summer and Maple) will be sacrificed to the trail.
In 2017, the 6-footwide wooden footbridge over the Assabet River will be replaced by a wood-planked, steel truss bridge 62 feet long and 16 feet wide. This is so people will be able to pause on the bridge to admire the river without hindering traffic. An idea — with a bit of help from the Maynard Community Gardeners, this could become Maynard’s own Bridge of Flowers.
In Acton, south-to-north, the trail starts on an existing causeway that traverses wetlands. It will then pass along the front of the Paper Store office building (between it and Route 27) rather than behind the building, as that option would have required a lengthy boardwalk over wetlands.
Farther north, a small parking lot will be added at the end of Sylvia Street. A new 70-by-16-foot bridge will span Fort Pond Brook. The trail, with its own parking area, will exit onto Maple Street adjacent to the south side of the train station. The station will have new bicycle parking facilities, in addition to what already exists on the north side.
Many people want to know how safe rail trails are for bicycling with young children. The Acton section will be flat and cross no roads. It will, however, cross two driveways bracketing the Paper Store office building. In Maynard, the trail will cross eight roads — some very busy — before terminating at White Pond Road, on the Maynard-Stow border. There are two short but steep hills which may be a bit much for young children, unless they get off their bikes and walk.
Southbound, after crossing Summer Street, there is a downhill to the parking lot behind The Outdoor Store. Farther on, after crossing Florida Street, there is an uphill paralleling Railroad Street. The rest is flat or near-flat. Portions though the center of town will be narrowed to 10 or 8 feet, rather than the standard 12 feet.
As for amenities, there will be no public restroom facilities or water fountains anywhere along the trail. Four kiosks with maps and other information will be erected at key points. There will be “distance traveled” markers every half-mile.
Benches and bike racks will be installed. Signage will describe historic sites adjacent to the trail. Because the trail’s path goes through the center of Maynard, there will be easy access to restaurants and outdoor seating cafes (with bathrooms), convenience stores and Ray & Sons Cyclery. A detour to the far side of Maynard’s mill pond will bring riders to the outdoor beer garden of Battle Road Brewery & Brewpub.
The south end terminates at an entrance to the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, which offers 15 miles of trails, half open to bicycling (fws.gov/refuge/assabet_river). The ARNWR has parking lots near the north and south entrances.
At the south end of the rail trail, walkers and cyclists are permitted to continue two miles west on the unpaved, privately owned “Track Road,” which ends at Sudbury Road, Stow. This is near to Stow Town Beach on Lake Boon, but Stow does not sell day passes.
One question about the north end is whether the Acton end of ARRT will link to the Bruce Freeman Trail, currently being extended south through the east edge of Acton, toward West Concord, with a north terminus in Lowell. There is no inactive rail right-of-way between the two, and thus no good option for an off-streets connection. One possibility would be to create a 3-mile-long marked bicycle lane on School Street and Laws Brook Road.
This project, when complete, will add 3.4 miles at the north end to the 5.8 miles completed years ago at the south end in Hudson and Marlborough. Connecting the two along the route of the original railroad would cover 3.2 miles and cross the Assabet River twice. Any rail trail connection, this way or other, is years away.
Experienced road cyclists can connect the ends by heading north on White Pond Road, then west and south on Route 62 (distance 5.4 miles), but this route is too heavily trafficked for inexperienced riders or children. Walkers and off-road cyclists can navigate a route that cuts closer to the original by traveling on Track Road (unpaved) to Sudbury Road, and from there on roads to the Hudson end on Route 62.
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