Chelmsford - After years of anticipation, local bikers, joggers and
inline skaters have come one step closer to their own car-free
thoroughfare, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.
Local politicians and representatives of MassHighway joined bike path
advocates in Chelmsford Center for the official groundbreaking Tuesday
The project should take two years to complete, according to Erik Abel,
“Isn’t it wonderful to be here today?” said Friends of the Bruce
Freeman Rail Trail President Tom Michelman.
The autumn sun cast a long shadow on the crowd of about 60 people
gathered in a parking lot behind the old Town Hall and next to the old
At least one person had a bike helmet on and many others wore shirts
with a map of the future trail on the back.
All of Chelmsford’s selectmen showed up to the event and so did Daphne
Freeman, whose late husband first led the charge for the trail in the
“It has been 22 years since my husband was so enthusiastic about the
possibility of a bike path in Chelmsford,” said Freeman.
After the state representative died, Carol Cleven won his seat and in
her first speech in office advocated for a bike path named in his
Cleven’s legislation passed in 1987, and she expected the bike path to
be built soon after.
“I thought it would happen right away,” Cleven said. “ I learned that
legislation can pass, but it can not get implemented for a long time.”
Her bill got tied up and left without funding because the Legislature
could not decide which department would be in charge of the trail.
MassHighway is in charge of the project now.
The $4.2 million first phase will create 6.8 miles of trail running
from Lowell, through Chelmsford and into Westford, according to a
MassHighway press release.
The path will eventually wind its way through Carlisle, Acton, Concord
and Sudbury on its way to Framingham, assuming Phases 2 and 3 receive
State Rep. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, feels confident that his town will
connect to the Freeman trail soon, even though it took 20 years to
break ground on the first phase.
“For the first time we have an administration that realizes how
important it is for the whole state,” said Eldridge.
In order to lessen the burden on towns the path will pass through,
Eldridge filed legislation to give municipalities insurance in case
construction uncovers toxic oil spills on the abandoned tracks.
“If there is oil residue found, they’ll be covered,” Eldridge said.
Though the ceremony took place in the center, work will begin at the
Lowell line, where the path will pass under Route 3, said Mark Fedele,
resident engineer for the project.
For about two and a half weeks the workers will put up fences to
protect against erosion and then the overgrowth and dead branches will
be cleared from the path, Fedele said.
By mid-November, the steel rails and railroad ties will start to be
removed, said Fedele.
The old rails have a market value and Fedele said a company in New
Hampshire might be interested in buying them.
Next summer, construction will begin on four bridges along the trails
and paving will probably start next fall, Fedele said.
MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky urged workers to finish the
project under budget and on time, because it has taken so long to get
“I feel like we’ve got something to prove now,” Paiewonsky said.
Local residents and business owners are already excited about the
future bike path.
“With all the restaurants, it will be nice because people can go
strolling after they eat,” said Cynthia McLain, a member of Friends of
the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.
McLain takes her 21-gear Trek hybrid out on the town’s roads now, but
she looks forward to biking, running and walking on the trail, when
Keith Armstrong hopes his restaurant’s proximity to the trail will
attract bikers and joggers like McLain.
“I think it’s great. It’s going to be good for small business,” said
Armstrong, of The Traveling Gourmet. “The more foot traffic we get, the
Staff Writer Andy Metzger can be reached at 978-371-5745 or at