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Funding vote raises trail hopes

Arlington Center

Boston Globe/File 2010

Arlington Center

Local bicycle enthusiasts say they are excited to see more state and federal money committed to trail projects in the coming years, including those in Arlington, Holliston, Acton, Concord, and Maynard.

The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, which makes decisions on how federal transportation dollars are spent in the region, voted recently to include money for several local projects in its Transportation Improvement Program for 2014-2017. The plan still needs final approval from the Federal Highway Administration and is subject to availability of federal dollars.

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“They put money where their mouth is,’’ said Tom Michelman, an Acton resident who is president of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. “It’s encouraging.’’

The trail is slated for $23 million in funds in 2014, 2016, and 2017.

In Arlington, $1.6 million is expected to be spent in 2014 for the Arlington Center Safe Travel Project.

The project will provide a link in the Minuteman Bikeway, an 11-mile trail connecting Cambridge with Arlington, Lexington, and Bedford.

In addition to connecting the two legs of the bikeway by putting bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Mystic Street and Swan Place, the project will improve traffic operations as well as pedestrian safety in the Arlington Center area by providing additional signs and upgrades to signal equipment, phasing, and timing at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Mystic Street, and Pleasant Street. Signal retiming and coordinating the intersections at Chestnut and Medford streets are also included.

Laura Wiener, a senior planner for the town of Arlington, said the project will improve the flow of the path and improve a dangerous situation for cyclists and pedestrians. Wiener said the bike path stops in Arlington Center, creating confusion about where to go, and some cyclists end up riding on the sidewalk.

“They come out and it’s not clear where to go,’’ Wiener said. “This will allow us to put bike lanes on the road.’’

Also targeted for funding is the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, a proposed 25-mile trail from Lowell to Framingham. The first 6.8 miles, from Lowell to Westford, are now open.

The transportation plan includes about $11 million in 2014 to build 5 miles of the Bruce Freeman trail in Westford, Carlisle, and Acton. The rail trail is also in line to receive $6 million in 2016 for the 2.5-mile Concord section and $6.4 million in 2017 for a bridge to take the trail over Route 2 between Acton and Concord.

Michelman said the group was surprised to receive funding for the Concord sections so soon. He attributes it in part to the dozens of comments of support sent in by residents and local officials.

“It’s hard for them to say no when you get that much public comment,’’ he said.

Also being funded in Acton is the Assabet River Rail Trail.

After being taken off the program last year because of planning delays, the Assabet River Rail Trail in Acton and Maynard was not only put back on but moved up on the funding list by two years, said Tom Kelleher, the group’s president.

“We’re very happy to be back after being at risk last year,’’ Kelleher said. “Moving forward two years is a good thing.’’

The transportation plan includes $769,000 in design funds for the trail between Acton and Maynard in 2014, and $4.7 million for construction in 2015.

Currently, the Assabet River Rail Trail consists of nearly 6 miles between Marlborough and Hudson.

This new segment of the Assabet River Rail Trail will extend from the Stow/Maynard town line to the South Acton commuter rail station, a distance of 3.4 miles.

The work will also include replacement of the bridges at Tobin Park in Maynard and Mill Pond in Acton and construction of a new 200-foot long boardwalk in Acton.

This project provides an alternative transportation option that links the Assabet River National Wildlife refuge with the downtown Maynard business district and the South Acton commuter rail station.

Once that section is done, Kelleher said, the group will focus on a 2.2-mile stretch along Track Road in Stow.

“The next highest priority is getting a significant portion of Stow back on track in terms of funding and planning,’’ Kelleher said.

David Black, an Acton resident, was among the dozens of people who submitted comments to regional planners in favor of the bike path projects.

“As a cyclist and resident of Acton, I already use the completed portion of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail and strongly support extending it into Acton to make it more accessible to Acton residents,’’ he said. “The Assabet River Rail Trail will open up new cycling possibilities to the south into Maynard, and I look forward to using it. I also visit Arlington every so often, and can see the inconvenience caused to cyclists by the lack of continuity of the Minuteman Bikeway through the Mass. Ave intersection with Pleasant and Mystic streets.”

Among other projects, $2.4 million is set to be spent in Holliston in 2017 to construct a multiuse trail on a section of the proposed Upper Charles River Trail. The plan is to use the abandoned railroad bed to provide a walking and bicycle trail beginning at Hopping Brook Road and ending at Cross Street.

In Bellingham, $1.6 million will be spent in 2014 to demolish a bridge on Route 126 and replace it with a culvert to accommodate any future bike paths along the abandoned railway bed.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.
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