Friday, January 20, 2006
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail project gathers steam
Emily Teller, the Westford representative on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, attended the January 10 meeting of the Carlisle Board of Selectmen to bring everyone up to date on the proposed trail which crosses Carlisle's western edge. Accompanying Teller were Tom Michelman, representative from Acton, and Carlisle's representative, Alan Cameron of School Street. Teller's presentation on the Rail Trail included the history of this multi-use project, a brief background of the Friends organization, the current status of the trail, and remarks about Carlisle's role.
After Teller spoke, the Carlisle Selectmen voted 4-0 to draft a letter to the Town of Acton indicating their intention to support design funds and willingness to sponsor a CPA request for such design funds to be placed on the Warrant for Annual Town Meeting this spring. They then voted 4-0 to establish a task force consisting of Cameron and Debra Belanger to drive the process.
Teller informed the Selectmen that the Rail Trail was the idea of a former Massachusetts legislator from Chelmsford who served from 1969 until 1986, when he died of cancer. Bruce Freeman fought hard for this shared-use rail trail along the old Framingham-Lowell rail line. Representative Carol Cleven took over his seat, and, in her first speech to the legislature, she proposed naming it for Freeman as a memorial.
The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail are a group of residents from all seven of the towns through which the trail runs, and they advocate for the development of the Rail Trail at the local, regional and state level. Nationwide, the 20-year-old Rails to Trails Conservancy is a group with 110,000 members supporting trails totaling 13,000 miles in length. The Friends group was energized after meeting with the Conservancy president in 2002, and began working actively to extend the already approved Phase I construction. The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail are now incorporated as well as officially a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Information about meetings is available on the web site: www.brucefreemanrailtrail.org.
The Rail Trail is a proposed multi-use trail of 25 miles from Lowell to Framingham. It would be built on the bed of the 25-mile route of the former Old Colony Railroad first built in 1893. Acton saw freight service on this spur until quite recently. In 1987, a feasibility study was done for Phases I and II by Central Transportation Planning Staff, concluding that a multi-use trail is feasible, noting, however, logistical complexities in Acton of the crossing of Great Road (Routes 2A/119). Concord has significant complications on their portion, which include the crossing of Route 2 at the "Prison Rotary" and replacing a bridge over the Assabet River in West Concord.
Phase I ends near Carlisle
Phase I extends 7.5 miles — from the city line in Lowell at the CrossPoint Towers for five miles thorough Chelmsford and 1.8 miles in Westford, ending at the curb of Route 225 on Carlisle Road in Westford where it crosses Route 27. This was formerly known as Carlisle Station.
Teller remains optimistic that Phase I ground breaking will occur this coming spring. This section is along a right-of-way managed jointly by Mass. Executive Office of Transportation (EOT), Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and the various towns. The EOT is currently in negotiations with the railroad, CSX Transportation (CSXT), to purchase the entire 25-mile right-of-way. CSXT is headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, and operates 22,000 miles of track in the eastern U.S.
Phase II includes Carlisle segment
Phase II consists of 13 miles - from Route 225 in Westford (1/4-mile segment) through Carlisle (another 1/4-mile segment), Acton (4.6 miles), West Concord and Concord, to Route 20 in Sudbury. The right of way on this section varies in width from 66 feet to 115.5 feet.
This fall Teller and numerous volunteers participated in clearing over a mile of Phase II land in Acton and West Concord.
Phase III is 4.5 miles in Sudbury and Framingham. The rails and ties have been removed from this portion.
Phase I planning differed from Phase II and III
Teller said that the design and construction of Phase I of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has been very differently managed and funded than the other two phases. (MassHighway contracted with DCR for the management of the Phase I design contract, because DCR had more experience with these types of projects.) Phase I was funded 80% with federal money, matched with 20% state funds — no town funding was contributed. This cannot happen now because EOT changed its funding policies.
Scott Walker, Transportation/Land Use Planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC), has said that "MassHighway and the EOT have a policy that the local applicant must first fund 25% of the design. This ensures that the community is committed to the project and this is demonstrated by funding the preliminary design of the project." State and Federal funds will cover remaining design costs and all of construction costs, which can run as high as $1,000,000 per mile.
"With your support, Carlisle can consider itself a good citizen in a process involving seven other towns," said Teller. She requested, "We hope that you, Carlisle's Selectmen, will be the sponsors of a request to Carlisle's Community Preservation Committee for funding that will allow Acton to expand their design area and include both Westford and Carlisle's small pieces in the preliminary design to be completed by December 2006." Teller added, "If this half-mile segment does not get built, there is a gap between Phase I and Phase II. This segment will enable connection of Phase I (7.5 miles) and Phase II (13 miles), to complete 20.5 miles of the proposed 25-mile corridor - quite a feat for such a little piece of land!"
Costs for Carlisle
There were questions about how the additional design costs would be assessed for the short sections in Carlisle and Westford. Teller spoke with representatives at Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FS&T) - the firm that has done feasibility studies for both Acton and Concord, and was told that "whether it is 600 feet or 1,200 feet, intersection or woods, in such small parcels the design costs really will be about the same." Their estimate of $20,000 from Westford and $20,000 from Carlisle will cover the work to be done, including local permits. It will qualify as the local match that will enable the further design and construction of this parcel to be funded by federal and state monies.
Long-term ownership and maintenance
How will the towns and the state cooperate for the long-term management of the Rail Trail? Basic maintenance and policing would be the responsibility of each town on its own land. Snow removal is not anticipated, as the rail trails are frequently used for cross-country skiing. No motorized vehicles will be allowed on the trail except for emergency vehicles.
Cameron said the Friends group would like the state to assume a role with long-term oversight, as is the case with highways. As one possibility, Beverly Woods, speaking for the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG), said that her organization would approve shifting oversight of the Westford/Carlisle portion of the trail to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Ample paperwork is to be expected for any project involving many local and state agencies. Cameron said FS&T is expected to guide the towns on appropriate legal documents. At the Selectmen's meeting, three possible documents were considered for Carlisle:
1) An easement in perpetuity over the land in Carlisle granted to the state for the Rail Trail.
2) A Memorandum of Understanding between Acton, Carlisle and Westford to outline the design process and costs.
3) An Inter-Municipal Agreement. This is what the Assabet River Rail Trail drew up for its four member towns and Teller has given a copy to Carlisle's Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie.
Phase II state and federal funding
The funding for construction of Phase II is on the state and federal funding Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) inventory for 2008. To make this happen, the final design phase must be complete and reviewed by MassHighway by September 2007. To reach this point, the schedule calls for hiring a design firm by June of this year and for completion of the preliminary design by December. If these deadlines are not met, state and federal funding is more uncertain.
"I hope you will support this essential partnership," concluded Teller. If Teller's group succeeds, in a few years Carlisle residents may witness the spectacle of bicycles, wheelchairs, joggers, walkers, rollerbladers and horses all sharing the same path on a Sunday afternoon.
© 2006 The