By John Laidler
Boston Globe April 2, 2006
For two decades, local officials, bike enthusiasts, and others have
pursued a vision of creating a recreational trail along an old rail
line that stretches from Lowell to Framingham.
Now, the proposed 25-mile Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, named after the
state representative from Chelmsford who championed the project before
his death in 1986, is moving into a critical period that will see at least
a portion of it become reality.
Perhaps by late this summer, the state is set to begin construction
the first phase of the project, the development of a 7.5-mile leg of
trail from Lowell through Chelmsford and part of Westford.
Town meetings in Acton, Carlisle, Concord, and Westford, meanwhile,
set to vote in the coming weeks on spending requests that are needed
preliminary design of the project's anticipated 13-mile second phase,
would run from the intersection of routes 225 and 27 in Westford
Carlisle, Acton, Concord, and into Sudbury, ending at Route 20.
Acton's Town Meeting convenes tomorrow, Concord's April 24,
May 1, and Westford's May 6. The proposals call for the design funds to
drawn from the towns' community preservation funds: $175,000 in Acton,
$160,000 in Concord, and $20,000 apiece in Carlisle and Westford.
A third phase, currently being studied by the state, would extend
trail 4.5 miles from Sudbury to Route 9 in Framingham.
Beverly Woods, assistant director of the Northern Middlesex Council
Governments, sees significant momentum building for the project,
attributing part of it to the active support it is getting from the
of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, a nonprofit advocacy group founded in
"Here's a project for which a shovel of dirt has not been turned,
they have over 1,500 families participating," she said of the Friends
Emily Teller, a Friends board member from Westford, said that
the group's activity, state agencies know "there are citizens in each
eagerly looking forward to using the trail and really wanting it built
Teller said the trail will help local businesses and "will enable
people to connect to a fabulous recreational asset. . . . It's
families, wheelchairs, jogging, cross-country skiing, walking bikes,
when allowed, equestrian participation."
Tom Michelman of Acton, another board member, said the trail would
"big deal" for Acton. About 4.6 miles of the route would run through
"The trail parallels Nashoba Brook, offering easy access to this
we didn't have access to before," he said. He said the trail would
provide a boost to businesses along routes 2A and 27, and allow for
to various recreation and conservation areas.
But not everyone is embracing the project. In Concord, abutters
raised concerns about safety and a loss of privacy, according to Bob
Armstrong, a Concord resident who is president of the Friends group.
Armstrong said that security and privacy issues can be addressed by
placing barriers such as shrubbery, trees, earth berms, or fences
requested along the trail.
Woods said that only about 10 percent of the 300 or so abutters
involved in the first phase expressed concerns, and that those were
addressed through the use of natural barriers or fences.
"There are over 13,000 miles of rail trails in the US at present .
in over 1,300 towns," Armstrong said. "Once these trails have been
completed, they become the best-loved things in town. None of the rail
trails have ever been closed down and reverted back to no use. They
All 25 miles of the proposed trail are inactive. The state owns
approximately 20.5 of those miles. The stretch it does not own is the
3 leg of the trail. The state will need to negotiate the purchase of
land from CSX Corp., the freight rail company that owns it, according
The state Highway Department is covering the full $5.6 million cost
design and construction for phase one, with 80 percent of that federal
money and 20 percent state money, according to Woods, whose agency
project's first phase its initial approval.
Phase 1 construction was originally set to begin about a year ago,
that date was set back when the state decided to redesign that phase.
Woods said the state was concerned that the original design
for removal of materials from the rail bed, which would have required
costly environmental tests.
She said that based on her discussions with the Highway
she anticipates construction could be underway by late summer or early
Phase 2 has been placed on a list of transportation projects to
federal and state funding in fiscal 2008 by the agency that allocates
funds for metropolitan Boston. But under new state rules, local
must cover the cost of preliminary design.
The spending requests in Acton, Carlisle, Concord, and Westford
allow those communities to meet their preliminary design costs.
The trail sections in Carlisle and Westford for which design money
being sought are both only about a quarter-mile each. But trail
advocates say those segments provide a crucial link between the phase one and
two trail segments.
Woods said that for various reasons, those small Carlisle and
Westford parcels were not included in either of the phases, but that
agency and officials from Carlisle, Westford, and Acton are moving to
them added to Phase 2.