Sudbury selectmen are expected to discuss next week whether the town should proceed with designing a section of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail or move forward with a scaled-back path.
Three town officials presented the board with four options at a meeting last month, and recommended building a gravel greenway along the rail trail’s right of way instead of a wide, paved surface.
Supporters of the Freeman trail see the Sudbury decision as a key development in their efforts to complete the proposed 25-mile recreational path that would run through eight area communities, and provide a link between Framingham and Lowell.
The Board of Selectmen’s chairman, John Drobinski, said he and his colleagues now need to consider how to proceed, taking into consideration the wishes of residents, the environmental impact, and the cost.
“We’re going to be sitting down and discussing the various options and looking at what additional data the board will require,’’ Drobinski said.
The board is expected to discuss the trail during its next meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 in Town Hall.
The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has been proposed to run through Lowell, Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, Sudbury, and Framingham, following the 25-mile route of the old New Haven Railroad’s Framingham & Lowell Line. The first phase, a 6.8-mile stretch in Lowell, Chelmsford, and Westford, is already open. Most of the second phase, covering 13.1 miles in Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury, is being designed, with construction funds in the state pipeline for the sections through Concord.
Plans for the 4.4-mile Sudbury stretch have not moved forward, amid concerns about funding and the impact on neighbors and the environment. In an effort to spur progress on the Sudbury section, the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail group has offered to raise $50,000 for the preliminary design of a less-controversial half-mile portion. While nonbinding Town Meeting and town election votes last year expressed overwhelming support for the trail, selectmen have not accepted the group’s offer.
Now, with the Sudbury board recently expanded to five members, the project appears to be moving to the front burner, said Dick Williamson, Sudbury’s representative on the friends group.
He hopes the town’s selectmen finally accept the money, setting the project in motion.
Sudbury’s conservation coordinator, Debbie Dineen, Department of Public Works director Bill Place, and planning director Jody Kablack came up with four options that they presented to the board last month. The options are to build a paved, 12-foot-wide path extending the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, construct the same path but bypass environmentally sensitive areas, create a 5- to 6-foot-wide greenway gravel path instead of a paved one, or extend the town’s existing system of walkways.
Dineen said town officials recommended the greenway option because it keeps with residents’ desire to have a bike trail, but would not be as disruptive to neighbors and the environment as a paved path.
Dineen said the option calls for taking up the railroad ties and making a gravel trail with limited clearings. She said it would be hard-packed gravel or stone dust and could accommodate bikes, wheelchairs, and strollers.
“We felt it was the best trail for Sudbury,’’ Dineen said. “It would have less disruptions of the natural areas and more of a trail experience than a paved walkway type of experience.’’
Dineen said the proposed trail goes through several environmentally sensitive wetland areas, but town officials are confident the greenway would be allowed under local conservation bylaws. It’s unclear whether a paved path would be allowed, she said.
“We felt there would be some significant challenges with permitting the rail trail under our local wetland bylaws,’’ Dineen said.
Williamson said he’s pleased the rail trail is up for discussion, but is disappointed town officials recommended a greenway. He said it is not what residents voted to support last year.
“A greenway will accommodate a small number of users,’’ he said. “It wouldn’t serve the purpose.’’
In addition, he said, the greenway would not meet state bike trail standards, so it would not be eligible for the state and federal funding that the northern sections of the trail have received.
Drobinski agreed that residents have been clamoring for a paved trail, but selectmen will likely need more information about the environmental impact before making a decision.
“I like the idea of the trail going along the right of way,’’ Drobinski said. “That’s the message we got from voters. It will be up to us to get the process going. We’d like to go forward, but what it will look like is a question mark.’’
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.