Click here to go to the feasibility study of this section of the MCRT
By Nicole Haley/Daily News staff Tuesday, January 16, 2007 - Updated: 12:42 AM EST
WALTHAM - Long deserted railroad tracks in Waltham may soon be bustling with joggers and families out on afternoon strolls enjoying a long-awaited paved pedestrian trail.
The Wayside Rail Trail Committee has a design plan in its final phases and is almost ready to pursue state funding, said city Councilor Kenneth B. Doucette, the committee's chairman. Since city planners began work on the paved rail trail in 1996, a series of financial and political roadblocks have stalled the project.
The most persistent challenge has been Waltham's requirement to accept liability from the MBTA for claims resulting from any hazardous chemicals that may have been dumped on the three-mile stretch of railroad property in the past. But Doucette says a new insurance program offered by the state may solve this problem.
"The state put together a program where communities could apply for insurance," Doucette said. Currently, he said, a city consultant is finalizing design plans for the Waltham trail spanning from the Weston town line to the Linden Street bridge. Voters in Weston previously turned down having the trail continue through their town.
The Waltham plans will include a number of "best practices," or safety measures, to minimize the risk of unearthing hazardous chemicals, Doucette said.
The state money would come out of the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a source of funding available for bridges, roads, bicycle facilities, and pedestrian and street improvements. Final design plans for the Wayside Trail should be ready in the next couple of weeks, Doucette said.
After hearing from the consultant, the committee - made up of city councilors as well as members of the public - will hold a hearing.
"The trail is a great recreation source through the heart of the city," Doucette said. The three-mile stretch could also be used to interconnect other natural resource trails in Waltham such as Prospect Hill, he added. The funding application would be for fiscal year 2008, Doucette said.
As Doucette prepares his appeal for TIP funds, city Councilor Patrick O'Brien said he would send a letter to the city's Community Preservation Committee this week, asking to use funding from the Community Preservation Act for the trail. The CPA, approved in Waltham this past November, allows the city to receive state money to match its own contributions toward historic preservation, affordable housing, and open space. O'Brien said he would ask the committee to make the pedestrian path one of its top priorities.
"This is another facet of the project, obviously funding is very important for any project. There are literally dozens of bike projects throughout the state going on," O'Brien said, adding that he often takes his 2-year-old daughter and wife to walk on Lexington's Minute Man trail. "I would love to have a trail like that right down the street in Waltham."
CPC Chairman Joe Maguire said the committee is still putting together rules and regulations that must be completed before it applies for CPA funding. However, he said, once the newly formed committee is poised to look at projects, the Wayside Trail will be on that list.
"Its a very worthwhile project and I think it would be eligible," Maguire said. Doucette hopes the city will not have to wait for CPA consideration.
"If we can get the funding through the state (TIP) funds, we could better use the Community Preservation Act money for other funding in the city," Doucette said. "(City Planning Director) Ronald Vokey was very confident that once Waltham did (a throughout examination), the state would follow up with the funding of the project."
As the design plans come to a close, Waltham is the current leader of 25 Massachusetts communities all working locally to build out their sections of a statewide rail trail, said Craig Della Penna, coordinator for the Mass Central Rail Trail Coalition. Efforts to open up the trail, a 104-mile former railroad line, have been ongoing statewide from Boston to Northampton for several years. Five years ago, the coalition organized a meeting for rail trail enthusiasts at Bentley College called the Golden Spike II.
"So much has happened in the past five years that I think it would be fitting to do another large meeting in Waltham," Della Penna said.
He said he would like a weekend in October for a Golden Spike III event.
Della Penna said Waltham represents one of the communities furthest along in making its rail trail plans a reality. "This (the Mass Central Rail Trail) will be the biggest rail trail in New England and it will pass right through Waltham," he said. Nicole Haley can be reached at 781-398-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org