By Meg Muckenhoupt
On June 3, Belmont Town Meeting approved $100,000 for a feasibility study for a Community Path, a shared-use path for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, in-line skaters, and other non-motorized travel. According to Russell Leino, chair of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC), it will work on a request for proposals over the summer and expects to engage a design/engineering firm to carry out the study this fall. The results should be available in spring 2016.
“Once the feasibility study is in hand, the next step is to make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen based on that,” said Leino.
The point of the feasibility study is to get answers to engineering and legal questions about routes identified by the former Community Path Advisory Committee (CPAC), which submitted its final report to the Selectmen in June 2014. There are several “choke points” on these routes where it isn’t clear exactly how to build a path.
Leino gave a proposed route crossing Clark Street Bridge as an example. Although the Clark Street Bridge is currently open for foot traffic, there may be different legal requirements for things like the amount of weight it can support or the minimum clearance for trains below if a new community path is constructed there. “I don’t know if that’s feasible from an engineering perspective,” Leino said. “. . . A feasibility study would tell us if something CPAC recommended just can’t be done.” Leino also mentioned that there are engineering questions about a proposed underpass connecting the north and south sides of the railroad tracks near Brighton Street. “Is that a $50 million feature?” Leino asked.
CPIAC will spend the summer prioritizing which of CPAC’s path segments are most important for the feasibility study. “We’re not supposed to reinvent them here,” Leino said. “We’re supposed to look at what CPAC recommended and go from there.”
The committee has not come up with a process for ranking them yet but will meet throughout the summer. The public is welcome to attend CPIAC meetings; for upcoming dates, search for CPIAC on the Belmont town web site, www.belmont-ma.gov. “We want to hear from people,” Leino said.
“We want to hear from people,” Leino said.
CPAIC is reaching out to other town committees with a stake in a community path to get their input, including the School Committee, the Historic District Commission, and the Conservation Commission.
Currently, Belmont hosts a short community path that connects the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge to Brighton Street, Belmont. The Community Path under discussion is supposed to link that Brighton Street path to Waltham and beyond as a part of the Mass Central Rail Trail, a path which, when completed, will run from Cambridge to Northampton. As of 2015, more than 25 miles of the 104-mile Mass Central Rail Trail have been completed and are open for travel.
Leino was heartened by the Town Meeting vote. “I think we can get there,” Leino said. “For me, it’s a sign. . . This money wouldn’t have been appropriated without the Selectmen putting their weight behind it and making it a priority. It’s a big step.”
Meg Muckenhoupt is Editor of the Belmont Citizens Forum Newsletter.