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SUDBURY, NEEDHAM

Making gains on rail trail projects

Support grows for recreational paths

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts Globe Correspondent 

Recreational rail-trail projects in Sudbury and Needham got a big boost of public support in recent weeks and are moving closer to reality.

Advocacy groups are aggressively fund-raising to help pay for the next phase of each project, which is the design for Sudbury and construction for Needham.

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In Needham, Town Meeting members voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to approve two articles related to a 2-mile section of the Bay Colony Rail Trail. The votes allow the town to enter into a lease with the MBTA for the right-of-way between Needham Junction and the Charles River at the Dover line, said Tad Staley, president of the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association.

“Our hope and expectation is that we will begin construction on the rail trail in the spring or summer of 2014,’’ Staley said.

There is one obstacle remaining before construction can begin in Needham — funding. The association has raised $139,000 out of the $235,000 considered necessary to complete the work, Staley said.

He said the group of supporters will be reaching out to local businesses now that the Town Meeting articles have been approved. It is also trying to tap into some state money. Staley said the goal is to fund the project entirely through private and state sources, and avoid putting any pressure on Needham taxpayers.

“We have already had very positive discussions and expect the fund-raising success to continue,’’ Staley said.

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Meanwhile, there has also been progress on a regional rail trail that is slated to pass through Sudbury.

The town’s 4.6-mile section of the proposed Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has been slow to get off the ground amid funding and environmental concerns, but momentum has picked up over the past 18 months. The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail offered to help raise money for the preliminary design of a portion of the trail in Sudbury, while residents at Town Meeting and in the town election last year overwhelmingly expressed support for the project through nonbinding votes.

In September, the Board of Selectmen voted to accept the funding offer from the friends group, and late last month, it voted to submit a request to the town’s Community Preservation Committee for $175,000 to cover the preliminary design of the entire stretch in Sudbury.

The total cost is expected to be close to $250,000, but the friends group has pledged $58,000 and the town had previously set aside $25,000.

“After years of delay, we finally have an opportunity for real progress on the trail in Sudbury,’’ said Tom Michelman, president of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Plans call for the trail to extend for 25 miles between Lowell and Framingham, following the route of the former New Haven Railroad line through Carlisle, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury. A 6.8-mile section is already open between Lowell and Westford.

Construction funds are in the pipeline for portions in Acton, Carlisle, and Concord, leaving Sudbury next in line.

Michelman said the friends group has raised about $20,000 of the $58,000 it has pledged, and is seeking donations and grants to cover the rest.

“We’re in the middle of doing more personal appeals,’’ Michelman said. “If you do it now, it will actually get designed and have an actual chance for construction funding. Without this we have no chance of moving forward.’’

Sudbury Selectman Leonard Simon, a rail trail supporter who joined the board this year, said he is hopeful the town’s Community Preservation Committee will recommend approval of funding for the design and put the proposal before voters at Town Meeting in the spring.

“I’m confident the town will approve these funds and we’ll be off and running,’’ Simon said.

Simon said the Patrick administration has made rail trails a priority, so he hopes construction funding could be made available from the state sooner rather than later.

“It’s been delayed so long but now that the town has spoken and the selectmen are behind it, we hope to get on the fast track for construction funding and the actual construction,’’ Simon said.

“This will be a major benefit to the residents of Sudbury,’’ Simon said.

He said the rail trail represents more than a recreational option, but also a connector between several points of interest in town such as athletic fields, the town center, schools, and Sudbury Town Square.

“The right-of-way goes through some of the most beautiful sections of Sudbury. It’s just magnificent in there. With a properly built trail, it’s a win for every resident in town. This facility could be used by every resident of every age, from a baby to a senior.’’


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