A number of concerns have been raised relative to the proposed extension of the pedestrian and bicycle path from North Falmouth to the Cape Cod Canal in Bourne.
Residents have expressed trepidation over the project’s close proximity to railroad tracks that run from the canal down to Joint Base Cape Cod. Apprehension has also been raised by abutting homeowners over property security issues.
The unease over a variety of issues associated with the so-called “rail trail” were revealed during a recent hearing by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on the the first phase of the project’s design. The hearing was held via Zoom on September 29.
The proposed 6.5-mile extension would run from North Falmouth to the Cape Cod Canal and would connect the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth with the Canal Service Road in Bourne. The project is being done in four phases.
The MassDOT hearing focused solely on design for Phase 1, which goes from Bell Road at the canal to Monument Neck Road. A number of Bourne residents logged in for the hearing and voiced a wide range of concerns relative to the project.
Susan M. Baracchini of Pocasset questioned whether a chain-link fence proposed to divide the bike path from adjacent train tracks will provide sufficient protection for bicyclists and pedestrians, specifically in the event of a derailment.
Patricia G. Domigan with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, the engineering firm working with the town on the project, said the chain-link fence is to protect the railroad from trespassers.
Ms. Baracchini also suggested that the speed at which trains travel on the tracks could pose a danger to path users. She suggested that the entire project be moved to run alongside County Road instead of alongside the train tracks.
Ms. Domigan said there will be an 18-foot separation between the tracks and the bike path, as well as the chain-link fence, “so there will be enough separation between the people that are on the bike path and the train.”
Thomas R. Barnes of Gray Gables asked about plans for security barriers to protect homeowners whose property abuts the bike path. Ms. Domigan said there is no plan to install fencing between the bike path and private properties.
She said her firm will work with the individual property owners to install plantings or some other type of barrier “so there is screening and it’s obvious they cannot trespass on private property.”
A fair amount of discussion was devoted to whether or not the train tracks should be taken up. It was pointed out that the tracks lead to Joint Base Cape Cod and the Department of Defense wants to keep them in place.
Ms. Domigan said a feasibility study determined that taking up the tracks would be cost-prohibitive. Others attending the hearing argued that the study showed track removal would be a less-expensive alternative.
During the Bourne Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, October 5, Bourne Assistant Town Administrator Glenn D. Cannon confirmed that Ms. Domigan had misspoken. Mr. Cannon said he was a transportation specialist with the Cape Cod Commission when the study was done and was the principal author of that report.
“That is not what that document says,” Mr. Cannon said.
Members of the board of selectmen were quick to point out the benefits of the proposed bike path to the town. Chairman Peter J. Meier said the increase in visitors to Bourne to use the bike path means a concurrent increase in business to store owners. He also sees an increase in property values because of the bike path.
“I think this project has huge benefits long-term for the region and especially for the community,” he said.
Member Mary Jane Mastrangelo noted that having developed the initial 25 percent of the project’s design “is a big milestone.” Ms. Mastrangelo said the 25 percent design keeps the bike path project on the state’s Transportation Improvement Program and eligible for federal funding.
“It may seem like that’s not very much,” she said, “but that’s actually the biggest part of getting going is that first 25 percent, so we’re moving forward and it’s really good.”
Member George G. Slade gave a “shout-out” to Mr. Cannon, who was an early advisor to the Town Administrator’s Advisory Committee on Pedestrian Bicycle Pathway, the group charged with overseeing the bike path extension. Mr. Slade echoed Mr. Meier’s assessment of the bike path’s value to the community.
“It will be a tremendous asset assuming it does get built,” Mr. Slade said, “and I would like to think that I’d be riding a bike rather than using a walker by the time this happens.”