The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 11, 2009

Carlisle’s pathways project turns a corner

Watching young children with loaded backpacks trudge safely to school on the crushed-stone surface of the pathways that adorn the town center, one can only imagine the satisfaction felt by town volunteers involved with the project. Was it over 30 years ago that Marilyn Harte

Long-time pathways proponents (left to right) Eileen Faber, Deb Belanger and John Bakewell stand on a pathway near the Clark Barn on Concord Street. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)

galvanized the League of Women voters to propose the concept? Have the three current voting members of the town’s Pedestrian/Bike Safety (Pathways) Committee – Chair Deb Belanger, John Bakewell and Jack Troast really amassed as many as a combined total of 31 years volunteering for the project? Belanger recalled the time and energy contributed by the late Selectman Vivian Chaput who championed the project, and the significant committee contributions made by Tim Eliassen, Art Milliken, Kristine Bergenheim and Eileen Faber (a current associate member). Belanger praised homeowners who approved the 16 easements outside the Town Center to make the pathways project a reality. She acknowledged the relentless positive support of the Trails Committee.

The physical implementation of pathways did not get underway until 2003, when the town voted $150,000 to cover a proposed five-year construction project, spanning the center and connecting roads such as Bedford, Concord, East, Lowell, and Westford. The project was called Phase I, and the town would consider Phase II to potentially extend the effort based on the success of the first effort.

The role of the Pathways Committee immediately changed from a planning/strategic committee to an implementation arm and took direction from Gary Davis, Superintendent of Public Works. In effect, the volunteers passionate about the effort became unpaid staff in a time when town departments faced more budget and staff reductions. Frequently, committee members meet on an impromptu basis to address eleventh-hour construction issues, handle abettor issues, obtain easement signatures, and a wide variety of issues.

Early on, the pathways project stalled temporarily when weeds began to undermine the loose surface. Instead of admitting defeat, the committee investigated a variety of surfaces, and identified the more durable and attractive crushed-stone surface now employed. They came up with a way to pay for it by applying for and receiving $300,000 in Community Preservation Act funds. Also, although all the work on four of the five roads is complete in Phase I, the topographical issues (including wetlands and ledge) on Westford Street have proven insurmountable for the current budget.

Evaluating the project

How has the project done in terms of schedule, budget, and quality? And did it achieve its goals?

Changing surface type added a year and a half to the project schedule according to Belanger. She noted that in the beginning, the committee always talked about Phase I in terms of a five- to seven-year project. The effort has just passed the six-year mark, and the committee feels that four of the five roads in Phase I of the work have reached or exceeded their projected lengths.

The inclusion of Chapter 90 funds and contributions made to the pathways account by developers brought the total funding of pathways to $492,000, according to Troast who maintains budget data for the committee. To date, the town has spent $428,000.

The committee sees a few ways to spend the remaining sums: addressing safety “hot spots” and providing key linkages to existing trails (see Table I), tackling as much as possible Westford Street (either item one or two on Table II), or perhaps investing in planning for Phase II (Table II). The committee seeks input for the future from the Selectman by December. Presently, Phase I of the project comes in $64,000 under budget.

Only time will determine the quality of the effort. At this week’s Selectman’s meeting, Chairman Tim Hult said that “98%” of the calls he has received about the pathways today are positive. Belanger has received quite a few calls from residents inquiring about why the surface has so many loose stones. Back in a committee meeting last June 18, Belanger explained that the crushed-stone application process involved putting down more stones than needed. She noted “some stones do not adhere, and those stone will remain there until dispersed by weather and foot traffic.” In the footpath areas where residents have swept away the loose stones, one can see and walk on the firm, compacted surface that Belanger predicted and expected as the final outcome.

Another common question is why the Westford Street portion near Town Hall is asphalt versus crushed stone. The section leading from the center to the Fire Station was completed years ago, before the recent pathway construction. Belanger estimates the crushed stone surface adds $15 per square yard. She did not believe that crushed stone would be applied to the remaining asphalt surfaces in the future. However, she did not totally dismiss the idea and defers such decisions to the town when considering the next stage of pathway efforts.

Taking the next step

Belanger looks for Phase II to be led by the “next generation of pathmakers.” Already Tim Donahue and Mary-Lynn Bohn, who will live adjacent to or on Westford Street, have signed on through 2010 as associate members. They are interested in developing the footpaths on this road, and have already worked on linking the Hanover Hill pathways to the town trail network.

Bakewell, an avid cyclist, said “With the conclusion of Phase I and before Phase II, we’re looking at overall bicycle and pedestrian safety – we anticipate taking a fresh look at that with a focus on the bicycle.” He noted the opening of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail as fantastic and said, “it’s going to be a big draw” which will put bicycle safety issues at the forefront of town. Selectman Peter Scavongelli noted the importance of setting parameters for bicyclists in creating road and sign markings. He anticipates becoming involved in the footpaths project as part of his recent assignment to the recreational aspect of town goals.

The core of the Pathways Committee that lived through Phase I planning and implementation—Belanger, Bakewell, and Troast—will continue as voting members and Eileen Faber will take an associate role to ease the transition to the next committee that takes pathways into Phase II. The Phase I survivors have already addressed the toughest of implementation issues. They set a process for working with the Selectmen, the Planning Board, the Conservation Committee, and the Historical Commission. They have demonstrated how to survive Town Meeting presentations and inquisition, and have successfully triumphed in town votes. They have paved the way for the next group of passionate volunteers to bring pathways into their neighborhood, and make it possible for their kids to safely walk to school. ∆

Table I: Pathways Phase I remaining priorities

Library pathway – Church St. to Gleason Library $7,000

Bedford Rd. – Kimballs’ to Stearns St. $15,000

Concord St. – Bingham Rd. to CCHS bus stop $1,000

Bedford Rd. – East St. to Gleason crosswalk $15,000

Other short safety concerns (3) $26,000

Total $64,000

Table II: Pathways Phase II projected projects

Westford St. to Monroe Hill (previously Phase I) $117,000

Westford St. – Acton St. to Curve St. $36,000

School St. – from Congregational Church to Bellows $50,000

Extensions of Bedford, Concord, and East Sts. $350,000

Total......................................................... . .$553,000

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