Rail Trail Letter to the Editor

Sudbury Town Crier
Thursday, March 15, 2007

To The Editor,

As the President of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, I feel I need to respond to a Letter to the Editor from Jim Nigrelli published on February 22, 2007. As my perspective is regional, I will focus on broader and regional issues rather than Sudbury specific ones.

Mr. Nigrelli states that thousands of non-Sudbury residents will use the proposed BFRT. I agree. As envisioned, the BFRT will be a 25-mile long trail from Lowell through Sudbury into Framingham and we hope and expect that many from out-of-town will visit, stop to walk in the conservation areas adjacent to the trail and potentially shop in Sudbury. Conversely, we hope and expect residents from Sudbury will use the BFRT to travel across town borders. We expect many will choose to bike to the West Concord commuter rail station, or commute to jobs in Framingham. For summer recreation, citizens of Sudbury will have a chance to travel north to Acton along Nashoba Brook and purchase a day-pass for swimming at NARA Park. Heartier souls could choose to commute or go to the movies near Crosspoint Towers in Lowell. The BFRT is a regional trail and its many benefits and costs need to be considered at both the local and regional level.

Mr. Nigrelli brings up the cost of policing and maintenance, but fails to mention that such costs have been minimal, not even worthy of a line item in many municipal budgets for towns along nearby rail trails: Minuteman Bikeway, Nashua River Rail Trail, and Assabet River Rail Trail. Insurance costs also are not a real issue. The rail trail will be covered by the same law that protects towns from being sued when a person breaks a leg playing soccer on a town owned field (see MGL Chapter 21 Section 17c http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/21-17c.htm).

Mr. Nigrelli expressed concern that demand for rail trails is high, while actual construction has been sparse and further, he has concerns that there are no guarantees that the BFRT will be built. I agree there are no guarantees, and the FBFRT has similar concerns over lack of rail trail construction. But I also see that times are changing. The new Patrick administration has made rail trails a high priority. We have support of many local representatives and Senators (Call Senator Resor’s office and you will hear nothing but the strongest support for the BFRT.) MassHighway has become much more rail trail friendly in the past few years. This has culminated in integrating rail trails into the MassHighway design guidelines Bible, rather than making rail trails a lonely stepchild. Recently the BFRT received written assurances from the Commissioner of MassHighway that Phase 1 of the BFRT will be funded and advertised as soon as a Transportation Bond Bill passes (and a Bond Bill must pass or we will have virtually no transportation construction in the Commonwealth). See the letter at http://www.brucefreemanrailtrail.org/pdf/MassHighway20070309.pdf. In addition Westford, Carlisle, Acton and Concord are all currently engaged in preliminary design and real progress is being made.

One could take Mr. Nigrelli’s dour view that nothing will happen and it is all a waste of time and money, or one could look at the tidal wave of support for rail trails, and the need and desire for non-motorized transportation corridors and linear parks. Those who take this latter viewpoint believe investment in initial design, which is a prerequisite to qualify for state and federal funding for 80 to 90 percent of the trails costs, is worthwhile.

Further Mr. Nigrelli complains about a lack of vision (though never defining exactly what that is), but in next breath, says he does not want to spend CPA funds to better define Sudbury’s vision. This is a classic Catch-22. Studies need to be done to answer questions and to make plans. Unfortunately it takes money to carry out studies and plans,
including the initial items on the April Sudbury Town Meeting Warrant. Articles 22, 23 and 24 will help provide vision and inform plans. Using Mr. Nigrelli’s argument one could, and I suggest should, find it imperative to vote for these Articles and against Article 35 which asks for postponement of any Town action concerning the BFRT. Passage of supportive articles 22-24 and defeat of negative article 35 will ensure Sudbury has an excellent foundation of information to create the vision and plan he finds is so lacking.


Tom Michelman
President – Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
6 Magnolia Drive
Acton, MA 01720