Friday, September 26, 2008
Regional planners meet with Rail Trail supporters
The Clark Room at Town Hall brimmed with friends of the Bruce Freeman and Assabet River Rail Trails when Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC) discussed proposed changes in state transportation planning and funding. In addition to Carlisle members of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (BFRT) group, representatives from Concord, Sudbury and Lincoln attended the meeting.
Part of Rail Trail in Carlisle
Although only one resident is an abutter, and although only 850 feet of the trail is in Carlisle, Selectman Doug Stevenson told the MAGIC meeting that 95 Carlisle families are members of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (BFRT) organization. The proposed trail would provide a bike and foot corridor from Lowell to Framingham, and is being developed section by section as funds, access rights, and easements become available. It has always been a regional rather than a local undertaking. Carlisle resident Alan Cameron, speaking for BFRT, says Phase I (Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford) of the trail is being built now. Phase II (Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord and Sudbury), the 25% design phase, is essentially done, with a hearing scheduled at the end of October in Acton. Cameron hopes the state will approve the remaining portion of the design plan under the Statewide Transportation Enhancement Program (STEP) that funds multi-town efforts. He says Phase I was fully state-funded, but the rules changed, and that Phase II towns were asked to contribute.
The Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) list contains approved projects that are ranked for funding eligibility. However, TIP list ranking can be changed by new transportation projects added to the list or several projects can be bumped down a step by an emergency, such as a washed-out bridge, that requires immediate attention. Cameron has been assured by a Highway Department official that when BFRT’s Phase II design is complete, the trail will be eligible for TIP funds and he is hopeful, despite the uncertainties inherent in the TIP list process.
Funding gets tighter
Transportation financing has always been tight within the Commonwealth. Lucas says costs have gone up, while it is anticipated that transportation revenues will go down, because revenue for highway improvements has come largely from the gas tax which has not been raised since 1981. As gas usage decreases, the available funds will decrease.
State legislators weigh in
State Senator Pam Resor was recognized at the MAGIC meeting for her long support of the rail trails. Her office sent a letter supporting the Assabet River Trail to the Executive Office of Transportation and to the Division of Federal Highway affairs on September 10. That letter was co-signed by State Representatives Cory Atkins, Pat Wolrath and Russ Feingold. MAGIC members at the Carlisle meeting on the 11th agreed to send a letter supporting both the Bruce Freeman and Assabet River trails after constituent towns were polled to be sure they continued to support the two projects. ∆
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