Tom Michelman | Phase 2A Groundbreaking Speech

Thank you for the warm welcome. I have so many people to thank, I am not going even to try to name names; we would be here all day, and lunch would spoil, and you would all would get food poisoning, and it would be ugly, so let’s not go there.

When I write a speech it is best to pick a theme. Some discarded theme ideas included:

  • Being from Acton for many years, and how easy, and supportive, and awesome it was to work with Town Staff and the Selectmen down the years, that there was little to do for long stretches, thus making me, because my back was covered and I could focus on the regional aspects of the trail, a logical choice as President of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Too boring, as there is little else to tell.
  • The friends I have made because I have been a friend of the BFRT. Too mawkish.
  • My personal creed. “Don’t use a fifty-cent word when a five-dollar word will do.” Irrelevant and brimming with solipsism (Apologies to Mark Twain and please note the use of the five-dollar word solipsism).
  • The demise of the proposed Bill Gates Memorial Beach. Actually very relevant, but a repeat from my Phase 1 ribbon cutting speech. If anyone wants to hear about the demise of the proposed Bill Gates Memorial Beach, I can make this speech longer, but I doubt anyone will be asking after you hear the rest of my prepared remarks.

I finally settled on theme that was appropriate for everyone who has made a significant contribution in getting us here today, at the cusp of construction of Phase 2A. Grit. Not dirt and grime, but True Grit, which by one definition is:

The noncognitive trait based on someone’s ability to persevere despite the presence of many challenges and obstacles to achieve a given goal. It is the trait that tells you to keep chugging at something when everyone else has given up on you. It is a measure of emotional intelligence and well-being. Gritty people tend to stick to their goals despite numerous setbacks and failures. It is basically an attitude—a personal creed that you can conquer anything if you just put your mind and body to it. It is the unwavering purpose and the resilience to stick to that purpose whatever the outcome.

Given that definition let’s list off some major BFRT milestones.

  • 1987 Proposed by Representative Carol Clevens in her maiden speech
  • 1989 Enacted into law
  • 2002 FBFRT formed
  • 2004 Initial Acton BFRT feasibility study published in 2004, but probably started in 2002. Also FBFRT Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization
  • 2007 Groundbreaking for Phase 1, first time FBFRT commented on the TIP, the process by which funding is allocated to transportation projects, and as noted the 10% design public meeting on Phase 2A in Acton Town Hall
  • 2009 Phase 1 Opening and ribbon cutting celebration

If you want immediate gratification this project is not for you. Which gets us back to grit. You’ve already heard examples of perseverance and hard work by the state legislators, local elected officials, MassDOT, Town staff, and consultants. Well it’s time to praise the group I represent. The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

First I want to acknowledge all the work of the FBFRT Board and volunteers have accomplished that makes me look so good on so many occasions. I get the credit when I have only provided a small fraction or virtually none of the group effort. Website, I forget how to post and only provide occasional content. Web based customer relationship management system, as many of you know I am good at sending out email blasts, but don’t know anything about maintaining and running the system. I certainly do nothing in regards to membership data entry. Newsletters, again some content, but nothing to do with the layout, production, mailing, management, etc.. Media contacts. Not my thing. Filling out tax returns and other forms. I know where to sign, when a filled out form is put in front of me.

You get the idea; there are a lot of nuts and bolts I have nothing to do with that makes this organization run, but many of our volunteers and Board have done this work for two, five, ten or more years. That’s grit in my book.

So now you know that FBFRT exists and apparently they have a blow-hard as a President, but what has it accomplished besides help getting over $25 million dollars allocated and / or planned for BFRT construction?

A lot actually, but my favorite accomplishment is, of course, one that has taken patience and perseverance. That is making progress in Sudbury. Recalcitrant, slow to act, study things to death Sudbury, where by 2011 no significant progress had been made for many years. Some FBFRT board member, Cindy McLain or perhaps it was Dick Williamson, came up with the idea of offering Sudbury $50,000 to perform a preliminary 25% design study to MassDOT standards of the northern 0.5 miles of the trail in Sudbury. This was an excellent idea. It extended the trail to a logical parking spot in North Sudbury, it only went by one residential abutter, avoiding the worst of the opposition, but most importantly it put the ball in the court of the Town of Sudbury who, we thought, could no longer avoid the issue. When someone offers to give the Town $50,000 to help plan a public amenity, it gets attention, right?

We made the offer in June 2011, after months of delay and ignoring the issue, the Board of Selectmen voted to put two non-binding resolutions on the Town Ballot and at Town Meeting for the spring 2012. A delay, but I love town wide votes. Ohh, please give me a town wide vote!!!!! We can rally support, organize volunteers, and educate the public and, then as we did in Sudbury we crush the opposition to the BFRT, in this case by more than a 2:1 margin.

So did that move Sudbury to accept our donation? Nope they deferred the next step to a concept committee. Finally with a change in the Selectmen balance of power, Sudbury accepted our offer to pay for the preliminary design at newly estimated cost of $58,700 in September 2013 (thank you Becky Williamson and your GPI team for the free estimate for a job GPI did not win). Did we have $58,700? Technically yes, but it would have wiped out our assets. So we fundraised via the Bring the Trail to Sudbury campaign. With a huge volunteer effort, fundraising of $60,000 was complete by January 2014 in less than four months, but the check was not yet accepted in part because there was another town-wide vote. This time to combine our $58,700 with $150,000 of CPA funds and some left over funds from another rail trail study to conduct a $260,000 25% design of 4.4 miles of the BFRT. Only $260,000 because there are lots of fixed costs in a 25% design. Now the effort was fully embraced by many in the Town. Of course the BFRT CPA article again won overwhelmingly (did I mention, ohhh please put the BFRT to town wide vote).

The donation was accepted in April 2014. As we should have expected other matters were of higher priority, so an RFP was issued after more months of delay, but finally in October 2014 more than 3 years and 3 months after our initial offer, Sudbury commenced its 25% design study. And it only took dozens of meetings, hundreds of individual donations, and thousands of volunteer and advocate hours. I call that perseverance, I call that grit.

The battles and effort to design and build the BFRT are not over, there are many more to come. Together we have to advocate and make sure we get funding for Phase 2B that will span Route 2 to Commonwealth Ave across from MCI Concord, and for Phase 2C the balance of the Concord portion of the trail to the Sudbury border. The end of the 25% design in Sudbury will just mean another battle to move the BFRT to the next phase. Together we have to support efforts for the state to purchase or help purchase the remainder of the right-of-way in Sudbury south of Route 20 and Framingham from CSX so progress can be made at the southern end of the trail. We even have an opportunity to extend the trail north from it terminus in CrossPoint Towers parking lot on Chelmsford / Lowell border.

You know, I have all your email addresses. I know where you live. So when I send out a plea to send in comments supporting BFRT in the next cycle of funding via the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) please retrieve from your spam folder and send in those comments. If we ask you to write Governor Baker and Secretary Pollack to help appropriate money from an approved bond to help fund Phase 2B design, please do so. When I ask for volunteers to help head up outreach and communications for Phase 2A construction, don’t step backward, but come up to me during lunch and volunteer. You will have lots of support.

Together we have the strength, together we can prevail, and then some day, we, or our children, or our grandchildren will be able to ride their bicycle to get on the commuter rail in West Concord or take a weekend ride from Lowell to Framingham; we just have to persevere, we just have to have grit.

Thank you so much for all your support, past, present and future. Now let’s toss that first shovel full of dirt and get construction started on Phase 2A of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.