Trail funding cut, delayed

Acton Beacon
Thursday, July 26, 2007

State and federal funding for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has been delayed another year and slashed to a level town officials say hopelessly under funds construction of the future bike and walking path.

The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, which disperses state and federal funds for such projects, has slated funding for the 13-mile stretch of the trail that will run through Westford, Carlisle , Acton , Concord and Sudbury for 2011, a year later than expected. The funding also decreased from $4.7 million to $3 million, according to a draft of the funding schedule released earlier this month.

During their July 16 meeting, members of the Board of Selectmen said they would fight to keep the funding from being cut or pushed back in the final funding schedule.

“We really have to argue that they’ve cut this to a ridiculously low amount of money,” said Selectmen Andy Magee during the board’s July 16 meeting. “We want to see funding and timeframe held.”

Construction of rail trails generally costs about $1 million per mile plus the cost of any additional modifications that need to be added. One local addition would be a footbridge planned to bring pedestrians over Route 2A/119 in Acton , which could cost another $1.5 million.

Town Planner Roland Bartl said the town has appropriated a total of $450,000 for the design of the trail over the past three years.

He also said that the MPO added about $350,000 to the budget for the town’s other rail trail project, the Assabet River Rail Trail, bringing that trail’s total expected budget to $4.7 million.

Each town must pay for the cost of designing its portion of the trail, while a variety of state and federal programs fund the actual construction.

The trail is named for former state Rep. Bruce Freeman, who first proposed converting the 25-mile stretch of disused railroad tracks from Lowell to Framingham into a bike and walking path in the 1980s. The plan lost momentum after Freeman’s death in 1986 until the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, a nonprofit group that advocates for the trail, was formed in 2002.

The trail is divided into three sections. Construction on the first section, which goes through Lowell , Chelmsford and Westford, could begin as early as this fall.

Advocates of the trail, which has drawn wide support in Acton , say it would relieve traffic congestion, as well as provide a scenic place for residents to walk or ride bikes. Another benefit would be increased foot traffic to businesses along Route 2A, which runs parallel to much of the trial.

Funding for Acton ‘s section of the project was bumped once before, from 2008 to 2010 and town officials are worried about seeing it slip even further.

“I can’t emphasize enough how proactive we have to be,” said Selectman Lauren Rosenzweig during the July 16 meeting. Tom Michelman, an Acton resident and president of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, agreed. “They all know us,” he said in telephone interview, referring to the MPO and legislators his group has lobbied in the past five years. “We’re not going away.”

Still, Michelman was hopeful the funding would be restored. “It’s not good news, but it’s not horrible, either,” he said. “It’s not a reason to be depressed. We’re just going to have to be on top of it and make sure that we advocate for it properly.”

Michelman and Magee also said that the MPO might change direction after the town submits its preliminary design for the trail to the Massachusetts Highway Department, which will give the MPO a better picture of what the project will actually cost. Michelman said the design should be ready to submit to MassHighway sometime this fall.

Michelman speculated that the delay in funding was due to the number of projects the MPO deals with. The town plans to have the design finalized by early next year and to be ready for construction in 2009.

Christian Schiavone can be reached at 978-371-5743 or at