Sudbury selectmen have, at least for now, turned down an offer by the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail to donate $50,000 for the preliminary design of a section of the regional recreational path’s route through town.
Larry O’Brien, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said its members appreciate the offer but think there are too many questions and not enough resources to move forward with the project now.
“The feeling was while we genuinely appreciate the very generous offer by the Friends, we don’t think the time is right to take the money, especially without a complete vision over whether it’s a priority for the community and how it fits in with other major projects staff is working on,’’ O’Brien said.
But he also said the board might reconsider the nonprofit organization’s offer at a later date.
O’Brien said town officials are working on a resolution for the Town Meeting warrant and a nonbinding ballot question that would ask residents how they feel about the bicycle and pedestrian trail. O’Brien said the results would help them plan future priorities.
“Somewhere down the road we may be interested in having this,’’ O’Brien said. “We didn’t close the door on it but didn’t fully embrace the offer.’’
O’Brien said the board will likely discuss a draft of the warrant article and ballot question at its next meeting, on Jan. 31.
Dick Williamson, Sudbury’s representative on the Friends group, said he was hoping for a more positive response, but is hopeful that the selectmen will come around.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,’’ Williamson said. “My sense is, eventually, it will happen.’’
Tom Michelman, president of the Friends, said he is disappointed that the funding offer, first made to the town in June, hasn’t been accepted. But, he said, the group won’t give up.
“I’m certainly disappointed that it’s taken to this point to get to a definite maybe,’’ Michelman said. “It’s our job to bring it back and make it a priority somehow, and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has been proposed to follow the 25-mile route of the old New Haven Railroad’s Framingham & Lowell Line, with sections running through Lowell, Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, Sudbury, and Framingham. The first phase, a 6.8-mile stretch in Lowell, Chelmsford, and Westford, is already open. The second phase, which is 13.1 miles linking Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury, is in the design phase. Design is fully underway through the northern towns up to the Sudbury line.
Plans for the entire Sudbury stretch have not moved forward amid concerns about funding, and the impact on neighbors and the environment. But the Friends group had hoped to jump-start the stalled Sudbury section by privately raising $50,000 for the preliminary design of a half-mile, less-controversial stretch in Sudbury, Michelman said.
The plan would design the path from the Concord-Sudbury border to Route 117, with parking at Davis Field and a connection to a sidewalk along Route 117. Michelman said it would allow for a continuous trail of 17 miles between Lowell and Sudbury.
But O’Brien said that not only does the town have other projects going on that take up valuable staff time, but there’s no certainty that the rail trail would receive federal or state design or construction funding. And, he said, it may be a decade or more before such funding becomes available.
“We did not want to accept the offer, have the Friends raise the $50,000, and spend it on a plan that may not go forward or lay dormant for a decade or more,’’ O’Brien said. “We’d rather accept the gift and start to move forward when we had a clear path and vision.’’
Michelman said he understands the town’s concerns but said it’s important to keep the project moving. He said the gift would not commit the town to future design or construction, but hopefully give local officials and residents more answers about what the project would look like.
“People say they need more information and this will provide more information,’’ Michelman said. “It does not force Sudbury to do one thing or another. If they don’t like the design, so be it.’’