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    Road forks for two bike trails in Acton

    The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail’s first leg is open, and funding for the second moved up.
    Friends of the Bruce Freeman Trail
    The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail’s first leg is open, and funding for the second moved up.

    Just as construction funds for one Acton rail trail appear to have been stalled, they may be accelerated for another.

    Roadblocks in the design phase have surfaced for the 6-mile Acton and Maynard section of the Assabet River Rail Trail, while the process has gone more smoothly for the Acton section of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

    The Assabet project had been slated to receive federal construction money in 2016, but that appears to have been put off for now, officials say.


    The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, which develops a project priority list for 101 communities in Eastern Massachusetts, has removed the rail trail from its 2013-2016 draft transportation improvement program.

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    “Is it disappointing and frustrating? Yes, but I know they are struggling with a lot of competing interests,’’ said Acton’s town planner, Roland Bartl. “We’ll work hard and hopefully we’ll be ready for 2017.’’

    The organization is expected to vote on the final plan June 28.

    Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, which is a member of the regional planning agency, said the Assabet River project is being delayed because of right-of-way issues along the rail bed. He said they are not expected to permanently stall the project, but all ownership and access issues must be addressed before it can move forward.

    Bartl said there have been some right-of-way issues in both Acton and Maynard. In Acton, there is an industrial building along the rail bed on Main Street that the trail needs to go around. He said the owners have been cooperative, but it has been a time-consuming process to come up with a solution that is acceptable to the owners and the state, which has to approve the design.


    “While I try to put a positive spin on it, I can’t quite dismiss their concerns that it may not be ready for 2016,’’ Bartl said.

    Meanwhile, a 5-mile section of the Bruce Freeman trail, which had been targeted for the 2021-2025 funding cycle, has moved up to 2014 in the draft program, said Tom Michelman, president of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

    “We’re thrilled we’re in the draft but nothing is a sure thing until construction starts,’’ Michelman said.

    Michelman said the trail may have been moved up in the funding cycle because the design phase has gone smoothly. Plans for the Bruce Freeman trail call for a 25-mile path linking Lowell and Framingham. The first 6.8 miles from Lowell to Westford have already opened. The design of the Westford-Carlisle-Acton stretch, targeted for $8.8 million in 2014, is nearly complete, at the 75 percent stage.

    Tom Kelleher, president of the nonprofit group behind the Assabet River rail trail, said the project is still in the planning agency’s improvement program but no longer has a designated year for funding.


    A 5.8-mile section in Marlborough and Hudson opened in 2005, with plans calling for the trail to continue through Stow, Maynard, and Acton. The Acton and Maynard stretches are being designed together, while Stow is still working on acquiring the right of way for certain parcels.

    “Our hope is to get our act together with the redesign and get into the transportation plan next spring,’’ Kelleher said.

    He said the improvement plan changes every year as the readiness of projects shift. He hopes the Assabet trail will make enough progress in the next few months to warrant inclusion on the funding list next year. Kelleher said it’s important to not get too far behind or else other projects will leap over it for funding, like the Bruce Freeman trail.

    “When you drift off target, you start to get a reputation that the project is getting stale and not moving forward,’’ Kelleher said. “You can move forward or backward by years from one year to the next.’’

    Engineers for the Assabet trail submitted the preliminary design to the state in November. The plans are being revised, and supporters hope the state will hold a public hearing on the 25 percent stage this summer or fall, Bartl said.

    Bartl said there haven’t been any major setbacks but several issues have cropped up that need to be addressed before the next design phase can be started.

    In addition to the right-of-way issues, some additional design work is needed in Acton.

    The town has purchased the 19-acre Caouette Farm, which will host the last 100 yards of the trail. As a result, a planned bike bridge over the MBTA railroad tracks can be eliminated, Bartl said. He said the farm will provide a better ending point for the trail and save money, but is requiring some additional design work.

    Bartl also said the project has still come a long way since he first started hearing about it in the late 1980s.

    “It makes me feel good that we’re at least closer,’’ he said.