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Westfield’s preferred connector trail cuts through North Side neighborhoods, dam properties

Updated: Jan. 24, 2022, 1:07 p.m. | Published: Jan. 24, 2022, 1:07 p.m.

 

A map prepared by Toole Design shows the preferred route of a multi-use trail extending the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail from its current terminus just north of the Westfield River to Southampton Road. (CITY OF WESTFIELD / SUBMITTED

By Amy Porter | The Westfield News | aporter@thereminder.com

WESTFIELD — A grant-funded analysis of the best way to connect the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail from its terminus at the Women’s Temperance Park north to the proposed Southampton Rail Trail has already been narrowed down three possible routes to one preferred alternative.

The feasibility study is funded by a $66,000 grant to Westfield from MassTrails, plus a 20% city match, which the city used to hire landscape architect Stephanie Weyer from Toole Design as a consultant. At a Zoom workshop on Jan. 19, City Engineer Mark Cressotti said they would be working through the fall to come up with a plan.

Cressotti also said that in a separate process the MassDOT has also taken up the inclusion and design of a separated multi-use trail in their improvement of Route 10-202 and Southampton Road. He said MassDOT will be installing a 10-foot trail all the way along the road improvement area.

Weyer said three routes were considered for the connection to the north; Route A, which runs adjacent to the Pioneer Valley Railroad line and then follows Montgomery Street, then neighborhood streets and dam property; Route B, which follows PVRR tracks to Interstate 90 and then follows Route A; and Route C, which follows Union Street and then cuts east to Springdale Road, then up Industrial Park Way to the MassDOT multi-trail.

The preferred alternative selected for further study was Route A, which takes the trail from Women’s Temperance Park up through Montgomery Street near Westfield High School and through the area around Powdermill and Armbrook dams, exiting onto Southampton Road at the Westfield Intermediate and Southampton Road Elementary schools.

From there, the trail would connect to a mixed-use path proposed by state highway officials as part of their upcoming reconstruction of Southampton Road. That path would connect Westfield’s trails to a network of trails running through Southampton, Easthampton and Northampton. The Columbia Greenway Rail Trail already connects, on its southern end, with the Southwick Rail Trail, and from there to trail networks in Connecticut.

Weyer said comments from an initial workshop and a survey were considered in the selection of a preferred alternative for the northern connector.

“We know people wanted to prioritize the Rail Trail and Route B,” Weyer said. However, she said they spoke to the PVRR, which warned that those tracks see heavy use, and there are plans to develop and change the track. She said the railroad did not support having a walking and biking path close to its active rail yard or track.

“We have to say this is not constructible, and not under consideration,” Weyer said.

The dangerous intersection at Springdale and Holyoke roads, which Weyer said in 2017 was listed as one of the top 100 most dangerous in the state, as well as the traffic on Union Street also made Route C a less popular choice, despite the potential to extend it as an east-west connector to West Springfield. Utility engineer Matthew Gamelli said Route C could also impact the city’s recent expenditures of a traffic light on Springdale, and new sidewalks on Union Street.

Weyer said that Route A has a more direct connection to open space, while also connecting to a dense residential area and three schools. She said approximately 46% of Route A is off the street, and there are fewer difficult intersections and crossings, but it does have structural needs that require a large budget and a lot of coordination with stakeholders.

Weyer said the city will still have to collaborate with the PVRR to cross over the tracks on the south side of the Pochassic Street bridge up to Montgomery Street. From Montgomery, the route could use Powdermill Road-Paper Street area to come out and cross Powdermill Brook Dam, connecting along PVRR property to Interstate 90. Designs for both Powdermill Brook and Armbrook dams have considered multi-use trails for recreational purposes.

Other areas along Route A that were mentioned as crossings were Twiss Street to Lockhouse Road, the Westfield Dog Bark, Armbrook Dam, Kittredge Drive, and the end of the parking area at Westfield Intermediate School.

Cressotti said whatever the city does near PVRR land will require the railway’s permission.

“They do have concerns, we need to address their concerns,” he said, adding that the city has a long way to go before it can convince railroad officials, but there are possibilities.

Former Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski expressed some concern about some of the crossings in neighborhoods along Route A.

“If Route A is the choice, I hope those people and those neighborhoods who have had issues with traffic and safety themselves will really be involved,” she said, adding that people from the neighborhood have already expressed those concerns.

Babinski also said Route A goes right by her house. “I guess I could have a lemonade stand,” she said.

Craig Della Penna, executive director of the Norwottuck Network, who said he used to work for Pinsly Railroad and has written three books on rail trails, offered to lend his direct support to the conversations with PVRR. He said due to recent changes in recreational use statutes, railroads and utilities have no liability issues when they open their land for recreational use, and most don’t know that.

Cressotti said he would look into bringing Della Penna more into conversations with PVRR. “We’re happy to see what magic you might be able to reap,” he said.

Weyer said the next steps will be to subject the preferred alternative of Route A to more development and to a cost estimate. Another survey is online that will end on Feb. 2 (bit.ly/TrailConnector_Survey2). The next public meeting will be scheduled in mid-February. Any thoughts or questions may be sent to engineering@cityofwestfield.org.

“On behalf of the board of directors of the Friends of Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, we are excited and committed to extending the rail trail to the North Side through neighborhoods, schools and safe routes so that having access to these trails is a utility for all residents of Westfield, and a resource for the many people who will use the trail to visit and invest in our city,” said Carmel Steger, president of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, following the call.