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Surprise boost for Freeman

State adds funds for trail’s design

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2010

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The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail received an unexpected boost last week when state officials announced $931,500 in funding to design its stretch between Westford and Concord.

Supporters said they had no idea the money, which will allow the next two phases of the multiuse recreational trail to be designed simultaneously, was coming through.

“I was not expecting it,’’ said Acton resident Tom Michelman, president of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. “It would’ve been a long process to get both projects funded. Design should be going forward very quickly now.’’

The money is part of a $3.5 billion authorization for bonds to pay for state transportation projects.

State officials said the funding represents a commitment from the Patrick administration to improve transportation services across the commonwealth.

“As we continue under Governor Patrick’s leadership to make improvements to bicycle and pedestrian access, recreational trails such as the Freeman are an important part of our investment strategy to support healthy transportation options,’’ Jeffrey Mullan, secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation, said in a statement.

The Freeman trail is proposed to follow the 25-mile route of the old New Haven Railroad between Framingham and Lowell, crossing through Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, and Sudbury along the way. The first phase, 6.8 miles in Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford, has already opened. Partial designs have been done for the Westford, Carlisle, and Acton phase and the stretch in Concord.

The funding announced Friday by Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray at an event in Acton will pay for the final design in the four communities. It will be combined with $500,000 that the state awarded late last year to Westford, Carlisle and Acton, said Roland Bartl, Acton’s planning director.

“It came as a surprise but it’s the result of intense advocacy for the rail trail that finally produced results,’’ he said.

Bartl said the four communities have signed agreements to complete the design together. Acton will serve in the lead role, Bartl said, but all four communities will have input as the project proceeds.

If everything goes smoothly, Bartl said, the design could take up to three years to complete. He said hearings will be held and the towns must submit plans at various stages to the state for approval.

“We want to make sure we don’t rush it and that everyone has their say,’’ Bartl said. “And there will always be a glitch.’’

The design is for the construction of a roughly 12-foot-wide paved asphalt path along 13 miles, construction of a pedestrian bridge over Route 2A/119, and the rehabilitation of six rail bridges along the trail. A segment of the trail crossing Route 2 will be handled as part of the Concord rotary redesign project.

The estimated construction cost of the trail through Acton, Westford and Carlisle is $7.7 million.

Barbara Pike, Concord’s representative on the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail board, said the project is listed on the state’s plan for transportation construction funding in 2020, but that can change.

“We’re hoping once this thing is designed and is ready to go, it will move up,’’ Pike said.

Pike said the funding announcement came “out of the blue.’’

“It’s thrilling that this project has gotten this level of support from the state in this economic climate,’’ Pike said. “It means we’re ready to take that next step.’’

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, said the first section of the trail provides a scenic and safe transit option and is already a popular venue for bikers and pedestrians.

“The additional funding . . . will help us take the next step forward in extending this project into Acton, Carlisle, Concord and Westford, making it accessible for many more biking enthusiasts,’’ Eldridge said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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