Frequently Asked Questions about Bringing the Trail to Sudbury with 2013 Updates

As of the October 2013 we have annotated and added to the FAQs first presented in spring 2012.  In spring 2012 the Town of Sudbury put two non-binding questions on the Town of Election ballot.  These questions were requested to be put on the ballot by the Board of Selectmen to take a pulse of the Town support (or not) for the BFRT in Sudbury.  The vote would not have occurred if the FBFRT had not made the June 2011 offer to pay for the preliminary design for the 0.5 mile northernmost section of the trail in Sudbury.  These two questions were repeated at Town Meeting.  In both votes on both questions the citizens of Sudbury overwhelmingly supported the trail.

Vote “YES” on Non-Binding Questions 1 & 2 at Sudbury Town Election (Monday March 26th, 2012) and Town Meeting (Starts Monday May 7th, 2012)

Non-Binding Q1: Should the Town of Sudbury create a recreational Rail Trail more or less on the old rail right of way in Sudbury known as the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (BFRT)? Results from vote were: YES 2288 (69%), NO 1040 (31%)

Non-Binding Q2: Should the Town of Sudbury move forward with designing a 0.5-mile segment of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (BRFT) in north Sudbury from Rt. 117 at Davis Field to the Concord Town border? Results from vote were: YES 2261 (68%), NO 1056 (32%)

  1. What happens if the Town votes “Yes” on Q1?
  2. But if Sudbury goes ahead with the entire trail, will funds for the DESIGN come out of the Town taxes?
  3. But if Sudbury goes ahead with the entire trail, will funds for the CONSTRUCTION come out of the Town taxes?
  4. I’ve heard that even if we design the trail now, state and federal construction funds will not be available until 2021-2025. Is that true?
  5. I’ve seen the number of $900,000 as the estimated cost for design in Sudbury. Could that be true?
  6. One argument against the BFRT is “The Town has repeatedly promised to develop a trail concept that preserves Sudbury’s character, not just the standard road through the woods. A decision should wait until the Town honors this commitment.”
  7. What happens if the Town votes “Yes” on Q2?
  8. Why did the FBFRT make an offer for the preliminary design of the northernmost 0.5 miles of the Trail in Sudbury?
  9. Why did the FBFRT make its offer contingent on the design adhering to MassDOT guidelines?
  10. What does a MassDOT design mean?
  11. If Sudbury accepts the FBFRT offer of paying for the MassDOT 25% design and then Sudbury decides not to go forward with the project or goes ahead with a different design will the FBFRT demand its money back?
  12. I have heard some opponents point out that we do not have answers to questions on parking demand, impacts to the lone residential abutter, traffic, safety, the environment, additional costs, options, etc. Is that true?
  13. Would the FBFRT offer to pay for other types of design for the 0.5-mile northernmost segment?
  14. I read that studying parking needs is not included in 25% design requirements, and thus preliminary design of the 0.5-mile northern most segment won’t include analysis of parking demands at Davis Field. Is that true?
  15. I have heard that there are environmentally sensitive areas near the tracks. Is that true?
  16. Is it true that the way Questions 1 and 2 is worded does not force the BFRT to be designed and built entirely on the right-of-way?
  17. Is it just a recreational trail?
  18. What happens if there is majority of “No” votes on Questions 1 & 2?
  19. A number of reasons have been given as to why we should vote no on Question 2. What are your responses?
  20. Where do I learn more?
  21. How can I help?

What happens if the Town votes “Yes” on Q1?

Nothing is guaranteed. The Board of Selectmen (BOS) likely would vote to allocate more staff resources and engage the Sudbury Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee into planning and considering different concepts for the BFRT through the entire Town. So far, a rail trail “Concept Committee” initiated in 2010 consisting of Town Staff has not provided a plan because this task has not been prioritized. Currently no additional funds (beyond staff time) are considered being allocated. 2013 update: At the direction of the BOS the Concept Committee did refocus their efforts on this task and present Staff concepts at an August 2013 meeting.  It is expected that the BOS will vote on their preferred concept at in October / November 2013 timeframe.   Regardless the BOS did vote in September 2013 to accept a donation from the FBFRT for the preliminary (25%) design for the northernmost 0.5 mile of the trail so Sudbury can move forward with the design process.  The Bring the Trail to Sudbury campaign is the effort to fundraise the $58,700 to pay for the 25% design. 

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But if Sudbury goes ahead with the entire trail, will funds for the DESIGN come out of the Town taxes?

If the Town pays for the design, the funds could come from those set aside under the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and would therefore not affect the tax rate. However, Acton, Carlisle, Concord and Westford were allocated a state grant to finish the design of the rail trail north of Sudbury. Town funds were not used. The same potential exists for Sudbury’s design. (Welcome to the confusing world of state and regional transportation funding). Alternatively some combination of CPA funds / grants /donations could be used for design.

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But if Sudbury goes ahead with the entire trail, will funds for the CONSTRUCTION come out of the Town taxes?

Probably not. If the rail trail is designed according to those standards set forth by the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the trail would qualify for construction funds paid for by the state and federal government. 2013 Update.  The state has paid or has programmed to pay for the entire  cost of construction of the all 16 miles north of Sudbury.

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I’ve heard that even if we design the trail now, state and federal construction funds will not be available until 2021-2025. Is that true?

For now, yes. The current Massachusetts Long-Range Transportation Plan programs construction on the BFRT south through Concord in that time frame. But plans change. If the design of the BFRT in Sudbury is not done it will never be built. If the design is finished or at least underway, then advocacy for construction much sooner in all of the towns along the BFRT may result in funds becoming available much sooner. This could occur from changes in Federal funding rules (currently under consideration in the Transportation Funding bill now being debated in Washington), increases in revenue for transportation projects (e.g., gasoline taxes, more funding for transportation at the state, or federal level) or through shifting more transportation funds to rail trail projects, as currently planned. The Towns and the FBFRT have been a powerful advocate for BFRT, but to viably advocate for earlier construction there needs to progress on design. 2013 update.  Well, well, well, things change and sometimes for the better.   As of July 2013 construction funds for all un-built sections north of Sudbury have been programmed.  Acton / Carlisle / Westford segment: 2014 construction start, Concord: 2016 construction start, and the bridge over Route 2 connecting Concord and Acton construction start in 2017.  That means if Sudbury gets it act together the Town and the FBFRT can viably advocate for construction funds for its section of the BFRT with likely success in the 2016 / 2017 timeframe.  This early timeframe is most likely for the 0.5 miles northernmost section of the trail in Sudbury, as that extension is eminently logical and one that MassDOT would much prefer to build simultaneously when building the segments to the north. 

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I’ve seen the number of $900,000 as the estimated cost for design in Sudbury. Could that be true?

We have seen no basis for this estimate and the actual costs likely would be hundreds of thousands of dollars lower (likely closer to $500,000). The State understands that design costs are high, and to restructure and lower the Town’s cost responsibility is an issue of advocacy for the FBFRT. We were successful in advocacy so that the non-staff design costs for Acton, Concord, Carlisle and Westford is $0 (zilch, nada). Regarding other costs, the trail is owned by the State south to Route 20, and it is expected there will be no costs to purchase leases. Parking costs would be included within the design plans. Ongoing maintenance, operating and policing costs have been negligible for Westford and Chelmsford to the north, as they have been for other rail trails.  2013 update, we overstated our success, but not by too much.  Final design costs in Acton, Concord, Carlisle and Westford are low, but not $0.  Concord had to spend more money on preliminary because of the need to redo a field survey.  Acton had to spend more design funds, to handle some items that were not included in the original scope that had become new federal requirements.  In any case we expect the State to pay the vast majority of the post 25% design costs for all sections north of Sudbury.  It is not unreasonable with Town support and FBFRT advocacy to expect the same for Sudbury.  This is all driven by the Commonwealth’s relatively new GreenDOT initiative.  See https://www.massdot.state.ma.us/GreenDOT.aspx

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One argument against the BFRT is “The Town has repeatedly promised to develop a trail concept that preserves Sudbury’s character, not just the standard road through the woods. A decision should wait until the Town honors this commitment.”

Wait? Wait? Opponents have to be kidding. Citizens have been waiting for years for real progress on the BFRT. The whole idea is to kick-start the process and get a preliminary design in front of the citizens of Sudbury, so the Town can collectively decide what it wants, and decide what fits into the Town’s character. 2013 update: At the direction of the BOS the Concept Committee did refocus their efforts on this task and present Staff concepts at an August 2013 meeting.  It is expected that the BOS will vote on their preferred concept in the October / November 2013 timeframe. 

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What happens if the Town votes “Yes” on Q2?

It is up to the BOS to decide. Potentially if the design goes ahead, this 0.5-mile section will bring the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail to the sidewalk along the south side of North Road (Route 117) thus allowing safe off-road access to the Trail by bicycle and foot for a great many Sudbury residents. The design should also include a crossing signal at North Road. When this section of the rail trail is completed, Sudbury residents will be able to safely travel all the way to Lowell (~17 miles) on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. The FBFRT have offered to fund-raise $50,000 and to pay for the entirety of a MassDOT preliminary design (i.e., 25% design). Hopefully the BOS will accept our June 2011 offer and move ahead with the preliminary design. This offer and the subsequent discussions and requests are what prompted the BOS to place the two non-binding questions on the Town ballot (March 26th) and the Town Meeting warrant. 2013 update:  If you are reading this section you almost assuredly know that in September 2013 the BOS accepted the offer with updated and additional scope for the FBFRT to donate $58,700 to the Town so they can proceed with the 25% design on the 0.5 mile northernmost segment.

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Why did the FBFRT make an offer for the preliminary design of the northernmost 0.5 miles of the Trail in Sudbury?

  • There is a current parking lot at Davis Field that could provide rail trail parking.
  • It will connect to sidewalks on North Road (Route 117).
  • This should be the least controversial portion of the trail to design and build. West of the right-of-way is a single residential and a single commercial abutter with much of the land cleared. To the east of the ROW is the Frost Farm Conservation area. This section of the Trail does not pass-through areas found to contain sensitive environmental attributes.
  • It will seamlessly connect with the Trail being designed in Concord. More specifically, until such time that Sudbury moves forward with construction of the Rail Trail, the Town of Concord will construct the Trail only to Powder Mill Road in Concord. The reason for stopping short of the Concord/Sudbury border is that there will be no access and parking at that location. Also, there will be no parking available at Powder Mill Road, so Sudbury residents who want to use the trail will have to drive to West Concord or cycle up hilly curvy Dakin Road to reach the trail entrance at Powder Mill Road. Conversely, construction of the 0.5-mile section into Sudbury will allow Concord to complete construction of the trail to the Sudbury / Concord border.
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Why did the FBFRT make its offer contingent on the design adhering to MassDOT guidelines?

Such a design will provide the foundation for obtaining State and Federal transportation funds to build the trail. All the BFRT north of Sudbury has been constructed with Federal and State Transportation funds (Chelmsford and Westford) or is programmed to be constructed with such funds (Westford, Carlisle, Acton and Concord). To qualify for transportation funds, the project must adhere to MassDOT guidelines (with allowed exceptions). Only projects that have gone through a MassDOT 25% design can get in the queue for transportation funds. This offer provides Sudbury the option to, but not the obligation to continue with this rail trail funding scenario.

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What does a MassDOT design mean?

It means that a trail will be designed to the MassDOT design guidelines, which basically means it will be designed to be safe (e.g., railings at steep drop-offs, at least 10’ wide with 2’ shoulders, signaled crosswalk with good sight lines), long lasting travel surface (e.g., built on dependable sub-surface with drainage), built with minimal impact to the environment, and handicap accessible. The guidelines DO NOT prescribe a hardtop surface, just a handicap accessible one. Importantly some exceptions are allowed from the design guidelines. See, http://www.mhd.state.ma.us/default.asp?pgid=content/designGuide&sid=about, Chapter 11 “Shared Use Path and Greenways” being particularly relevant.

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If Sudbury accepts the FBFRT offer of paying for the MassDOT 25% design and then Sudbury decides not to go forward with the project or goes ahead with a different design will the FBFRT demand its money back?

No. There are no strings attached to FBFRT offer except to have the 0.5-mile segment preliminary (25%) design adhere to MassDOT standards (so as to provide options for future transportation funding as described above), and that the trail is designed to stay on the current railroad right-of-way for the 0.5 mile segment (in order to seamlessly connect with Concord portion of the BFRT to the north). If Sudbury decides to do something different or nothing more, there is no obligation to the FBFRT or MassDOT.

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I have heard some opponents point out that we do not have answers to questions on parking demand, impacts to the lone residential abutter, traffic, safety, the environment, additional costs, options, etc. Is that true?

Absolutely. But we still won’t have the information if nothing is done, which has been the case for the last two years. Unfortunately, information is not costless and the cost of perfect information is infinite. Nonetheless the above questions will be addressed in the preliminary design that the FBFRT is proposing to pay for, and opponents, proponents and those just wanting to know more before deciding how they stand will be much better off with the additional information such a study will provide. As part of the 25% design process, a series of hearings would take place so that Sudbury residents’ inputs could be incorporated in the planning and design process.

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Would the FBFRT offer to pay for other types of design for the 0.5-mile northernmost segment?

Possibly; it would depend. In June 2011 the FBFRT originally offered and still offers to engage in discussion and consider other or additional options (e.g., consider an alternative route off the railroad right-of-way in addition to the 25% design on the current railroad right-of-way). 2013 update.  No for now (and irrelevant for now), but if the Town decides not to pursue a trail that follows MassDOT 25% guidelines after the 25% design has been completed and voted on, and would like to pursue a different vision, the FBFRT is open to request for additional donations for a design for a different type of rail trail.

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I read that studying parking needs is not included in 25% design requirements, and thus preliminary design of the 0.5-mile northern most segment won’t include analysis of parking demands at Davis Field. Is that true?

Yes technically correct, but incorrect in practice and intent. A 25% (preliminary) design may, but need not include an analysis of parking demands. Nonetheless, because all parties understand the importance to understanding and sensitivity of parking, it has always been the intent of the FBFRT offer to include paying for parking demand analysis in the preliminary design. While the FBFRT has offered to pay for such design, it is important to remember that the Town of Sudbury will control the scope of work, review of approach and method of analysis of the design. 2013 update.  The parking study was included in our updated 2013 design scope donation offer for $58,700.

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I have heard that there are environmentally sensitive areas near the tracks. Is that true?

There are, though we believe there are many mitigating factors, not the least of which is that the Trail, if it were built centered on the tracks (constructed for railroad traffic in 19th and 20th centuries), would be built on the already in-place railroad base which is elevated above all wetlands. Construction of a rail trail centered on the tracks would do little to alter the current water flow or level of run-off. The construction of a rail tail would include the removal of the creosote -soaked rotting wooden ties, which removal could be a net benefit to water quality. Many other communities have supported and built rail trails adjacent to wetlands in their towns.

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Is it true that the way Questions 1 and 2 is worded does not force the BFRT to be designed and built entirely on the right-of-way?

Correct. The questions were explicitly written to allow that flexibility, and thus opposition to Questions 1 and 2 as written cannot logically be based on environmental concerns, as alternative routes will be considered, which could sidestep those concerns.

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Is it just a recreational trail?

No, actually the rail trail would be used both for recreation and transportation. The trail would provide a great non-motorized way to get to many important places in Sudbury such as Town center, shopping areas, several recreational fields, schools and several conservation areas. Sudbury users would be able to access West Concord (including the commuter rail station) Acton commercial district on Route 2A, downtown Chelmsford and north to Cross Point Towers in Lowell.

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What happens if there is majority of “No” votes on Questions 1 & 2?

In our opinion, the already slow progress on the trail in Sudbury will come to a complete standstill for at least the next year and probably longer. Town officials have been, at best, lukewarm about allocating resources to the BFRT over the last two years citing higher priorities, tight budgets and short staffing. The BOS wants to hear from its citizens via the non-binding questions about the level of the support the trail has before allocating Town resources (i.e., Town Staff time, not funds) to progress on the BFRT.

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A number of reasons have been given as to why we should vote no on Question 2. What are your responses? Our responses in italics below.

Opponents assert that the Town of Sudbury should NOT move forward with the 25% design of this ½-mile segment and the use of Davis Recreational Field parking lot as a trail terminus for the following reasons:

We cannot allow outside special interests to influence the direction of Town projects.

The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has 4000 supporters of which 800 are Sudbury residents. Just because an idea comes from a group that is not solely comprised of Sudbury citizens does not make the idea unworthy. Should not a question be voted up or down on its merits, not based on its origin?

Parking for this regional trail at Davis Field is Concord’s solution to its lack of parking. It’s also in direct conflict with Sudbury’s parking needs for this field.

No. Concord has parking designated at various locations, there just does not happen to be a good parking spot at the terminus (in the middle of the woods). The proposal is to extend the terminus to a sensible location with plenty of parking spaces already available. The plans for future use of Davis Field have not been defined. Currently the field is used only lightly, and parking is likely sufficient for all users. If field usage increases and enough parking spaces during peak times becomes an issue, then rail trail users could be directed with signage to other parking a few miles north in Concord or the parking lot at Davis Field could be expanded. Importantly, we won’t have any better answers to the parking questions until a preliminary design is done, which the FBFRT has offered to pay for in full.

The proposed offer to raise money will only cover a fraction of the full design. Sudbury will be responsible for the complete design cost. This cost is unknown.

Partially correct. The cost of the full design can be estimated with much more certainty if the preliminary design (which the FBFRT will pay for) is completed. Yes, the preliminary design is only part of the costs, but as discussed above there are many funding options for rail trail design. Importantly a preliminary design does not obligate the Town to go to the next step of full design. Why not have the preliminary design paid for by the FBFRT as offered, and then decide with more information?

The majority of this section is within wetland jurisdiction. MassDOT paved design standards conflict with State regulations and Sudbury’s Wetlands ByLaw, potentially having legal implications.

The MassDOT does not prescribe a paved trail. Further, dozens and dozens of communities across the Commonwealth have built rail trails that have gone alongside wetlands. Sudbury’s Wetlands Bylaw does not prohibit such construction. There are wetlands alongside roads throughout Sudbury.

Acceptance of this offer is in direct conflict with the Selectmen’s 2009 commitment to the Town. Town meeting voted to fund the development of a concept plan by Town staff before moving forward. The Town has not acted on this binding article.

The authorization of the funds was binding. However, when the period for use of the funds lapsed, they were returned to the CPA account. The Article did not compel Town staff to formulate a concept plan. A preliminary design would help inform a concept plan. Voting for this non-binding resolution will be another message to the Town to allocate resources to develop the concept plan which has lain dormant for two years.  2013 Update.  A concept plan was presented to the BOS in August 2013, and the preferred concept is expected to be voted on at a BOS meeting in the October / November 2013 timeframe. 

By then, many design requirements may change, requiring plans and studies to be redone. There’s sufficient time to develop an entire trail concept plan that’s right for Sudbury.

As discussed above, construction funding could occur earlier, but not unless a trail design is ready or at least in progress. Does anyone really think that the Town will allocate any resources to developing a concept plan if these questions lose? The Town has been studying the rail trail since 2005. A preliminary design paid for the FBFRT puts no burden on the Town resources with the exception of staff time. Then the Town can decide if and when it wants to pursue a full design. 2013 Update.  As stated above all sections of the trail north of Sudbury are programmed for construction by 2017 with State and Federal funds.  Funding for the Sudbury portion is likely to be much quicker given that the FBFRT is a high priority rail trail for the Commonwealth (see, www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/bsg.pdf) and aligns perfectly with the goals GreenDOT (see, https://www.massdot.state.ma.us/GreenDOT.aspx)

It is irresponsible to draw Town resources and staff away from higher priority projects or to spend anyone’s money for an amenity that won’t be constructed for at least a decade.

That’s one opinion. Again, it is guaranteed that construction won’t happen sooner than a decade if no progress is made on design in the interim. Construction funds may become available. The FBFRT will certainly advocate for earlier construction funding. Further, the citizens of Sudbury can decide what the priorities of the projects are. Please vote Yes on Questions 1 & 2 and send a message to the community that you view the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail a high priority.

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Where do I learn more?

You can go to the FBFRT website http://www.brucefreemanrailtrail.org/sudburyext/index.html, the RTCAC website http://www.sudbury.ma.us/departments/RailTrail/ or attend an informational session at Sudbury Town Hall at 7:30 pm on Monday March 19th, 2012.

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How can I help?

There is a lot you can do. We are looking for volunteers to get out the vote and educate friends and neighbors about the issues. Are you willing to have a sign on your property, start a phone chain to supporters, hand out literature, etc? 2013 Update.  You can help with the Bring the Trail to Sudbury campaign, or if you don’t have time, just donate to the Bring the Trail to Sudbury Fund.  See donation instructions below.
Please contact: Dick Williamson 978-618-5475, Williamson@alum.mit.edu
Tom Michelman 978-580-6190, tmichelman@gmail.com

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If you have money, but don’t have time MAKE A DONATION
Move this effort along by making a contribution to the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail fund to pay for the design of the Sudbury Extension.

Donate Online (choose “Trail to Sudbury Fund)

or mail your donation to:

Bring the Trail to Sudbury
P.O. Box 61
Sudbury, MA 01776

(make check payable to: Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail)

– See more at: http://brucefreemanrailtrail.org/the-trail-so-far/sudburyext/?preview=true&preview_id=565&preview_nonce=3c76ae7779#sthash.v6FWmyDP.dpuf

The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is incorporated as a 501(c) (3) organization—donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

View maps for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
Download a Phase 1 Trail Map with Parking Information here (PDF) Phase 1 is in Lowell, Chelmsford, and Westford.

Download a Phase 2C Trail Map (PDF) Note: Phase 2C in Concord is not complete. For safety purposes, using the trail is prohibited until construction is completed.