Boston Globe: Surprise Boost for Freeman

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts, Globe Correspondent  |  June 24, 2010

The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail received an unexpected boost last week when state officials announced $931,500 in funding to design its stretch between Westford and Concord.

Supporters said they had no idea the money, which will allow the next two phases of the multiuse recreational trail to be designed simultaneously, was coming through.

“I was not expecting it,” said Acton resident Tom Michelman, president of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. “It would’ve been a long process to get both projects funded. Design should be going forward very quickly now.”

The money is part of a $3.5 billion authorization for bonds to pay for state transportation projects.

State officials said the funding represents a commitment from the Patrick administration to improve transportation services across the commonwealth.

“As we continue under Governor Patrick’s leadership to make improvements to bicycle and pedestrian access, recreational trails such as the Freeman are an important part of our investment strategy to support healthy transportation options,” Jeffrey Mullan, secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation, said in a statement.

The Freeman trail is proposed to follow the 25-mile route of the old New Haven Railroad between Framingham and Lowell, crossing through Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury along the way. The first phase, 6.8 miles in Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford, has already opened. Partial designs have been done for the Westford, Carlisle, and Acton phase and the stretch in Concord.

The funding announced Friday by Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray at an event in Acton will pay for the final design in the four communities. It will be combined with $500,000 that the state awarded late last year to Westford, Carlisle and Acton, said Roland Bartl, Acton’s planning director.

“It came as a surprise but it’s the result of intense advocacy for the rail trail that finally produced results,” he said.

Bartl said the four communities have signed agreements to complete the design together. Acton will serve in the lead role, Bartl said, but all four communities will have input as the project proceeds.

If everything goes smoothly, Bartl said, the design could take up to three years to complete. He said hearings will be held and the towns must submit plans at various stages to the state for approval.

“We want to make sure we don’t rush it and that everyone has their say,” Bartl said. “And there will always be a glitch.”

The design is for the construction of a roughly 12-foot-wide paved asphalt path along 13 miles, construction of a pedestrian bridge over Route 2A/119, and the rehabilitation of six rail bridges along the trail. A segment of the trail crossing Route 2 will be handled as part of the Concord rotary redesign project.

The estimated construction cost of the trail through Acton, Westford and Carlisle is $7.7 million.

Barbara Pike, Concord’s representative on the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail board, said the project is listed on the state’s plan for transportation construction funding in 2020, but that can change.

“We’re hoping once this thing is designed and is ready to go, it will move up,” Pike said.

Pike said the funding announcement came “out of the blue.”

“It’s thrilling that this project has gotten this level of support from the state in this economic climate,” Pike said. “It means we’re ready to take that next step.”

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, said the first section of the trail provides a scenic and safe transit option and is already a popular venue for bikers and pedestrians.

“The additional funding . . . will help us take the next step forward in extending this project into Acton, Carlisle, Concord and Westford, making it accessible for many more biking enthusiasts,” Eldridge said.

2 thoughts on “Boston Globe: Surprise Boost for Freeman

  • This unexpected funding boost from the state is the perfect opportunity to make this project a true metro west transportation solution instead of a seasonal linear park.

    The opportunity to create a circumferential transit service combined with a recreational / bike paths can truly occur for this irreplaceable corridor, and elsewhere in Massachusetts, if our Beacon Hill leaders honestly represent all users of transportation and are truly committed to a greener, more economically competitive Massachusetts economy.

    The commuter-choked 128 and 495 Interstates clearly demonstrate there is demand for circumferential commuting – not everyone is working in Boston. It is long past time to connect our communities along this corridor with a walk-to-station, non-road based, all weather transit solution.

    The state transportation planning agencies have not reexamined this project in any significant way since it was first proposed in 1987. Remember in that year we had gasoline at less than $1 a gallon in those years and significantly smaller population densities in the towns that this rail right of way passes through.

    Repeated suggestions to create a Rail with Trail corridor to benefit a much broader user base have been inexplicably ignored by local and state planning representatives and agencies.

    Shouldn’t a project of this magnitude benefit as many users as possible?

    Wouldn’t expansion of practical, year-round commuting choices, that include recreational facilities, be good for the Massachusetts economy and its residents?

    While part of this trail has been constructed, it is not too late to create a truly innovative mobility solution for all the communities this corridor passes through.

    It was Governor Frank Sargent in 1972 who cancelled the I-695 loop project and the I-95 advance into Boston proper which proves that projects planned for 20 years can be changed for the better. (Imagine how much worse driving in Boston would be now if those highways had been built.)

    This is where this trail is now. The project needs to be updated for today’s energy and transportation realities. The communities that Senator Eldridge represents deserve relief and practical choice from the auto-only commuting state we are currently in forthose not going to Boston every morning.

    Please contact Senator Eldridge and urge him to support the use of these planning funds to create the “Bruce Freeman Transportation Corridor” that includes Transit as well as Trails.

  • Please support the use of planning funds to create the Bruce Freeman Transportation Corridor which would include Transit as well as Trails.

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