The economic benefit of rail trails to Massachusetts communities was addressed during a recent conference focused on state transportation. A study presented at the conference suggested the state believes the proposed Bourne Rail Trail is high among the rail trail proposals that are expected to have the largest economic impact in its region.
That news was shared with members of the group that has been tasked with advising the town on creation of a bike path to connect the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth with the Cape Cod Canal bike path. Bourne Town Administrator Advisory Committee on Pedestrian Bicycle Pathway Chairman David J. McPherson offered the news during the committee’s remote meeting on November 18.
The 2020 Moving Together Conference was held last week and sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Mr. McPherson shared with the group a graphic sent to him by a conference attendee. The graphic displayed proposed rail trail projects across the state. The Bourne Rail Trail ranked high when it came to its expected economic impact.
“I think that’s pretty significant in terms of why the Bourne Rail Trail is a good idea,” he said.
Mr. McPherson also showed the committee a map that was also displayed during the conference. The map, he said, showed an outline of bike trails that are considered part of a priority vision by the state. The map included the six miles of the Bourne Rail Trail, he said.
“I don’t know who exactly developed this priority vision,” he said, “but the fact that we’re on there, I take it as a good sign.”
The priority vision map shown at the conference is expected to be released to the general public in the next few months, Mr. McPherson said. The revelation of the importance given the Bourne Rail Trail during the conference dovetailed with Town Engineer Timothy P. Lydon’s claim that Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. considers the proposed bike path imperative.
“The rumblings I’m hearing is this is a high priority in the Baker administration,” Mr. Lydon said.
The project is being done in four phases. Phase 1 goes from Bell Road to Monument Neck Road; phase 2 stretches south from Monument Neck Road to Monks Cove in Pocasset; phase 3 would extend from Monks Park to the Shore Road overpass bridge on Shipyard Lane by Kingman Yacht Center; and phase 4 would go from Shipyard Lane to the Falmouth town line, connecting with the Shining Sea Bikeway at North Falmouth.
Mr. McPherson noted that project notification forms have been submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for phases 1 and 2. The form is one step in MassDOT’s process for applying to receive state construction funding.
The phase 4 project notification form is being submitted in conjunction with the Town of Falmouth and assistance from the Cape Cod Commission, he said. During last week’s meeting, members voted in favor of beginning the process for submitting the phase 3 form.
The rail trail project was awarded $150,000 in Community Preservation Act funds during the November 16 Special Town Meeting. The project previously received $50,000 in CPA funds during Town Meetings in 2018 and 2019, a total of $100,000.
Mr. Lydon pointed out the advisory committee had used the $100,000 in town funds to secure an additional $2.5 million through various grants and fundraising efforts. The committee has been awarded $385,000 from the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Program and received donations from groups such as the Friends of the Bourne Rail Trail and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
The conservancy is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that works with communities to preserve unused rail corridors by transforming them into rail trails. The committee voted unanimously to apply again in February for a Mass Trails grant and has set its sights on funding through the federal government’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.
The CMAQ program provides more than $8.1 billion dollars in funds to invest in projects that reduce emissions from transportation-related sources. Mr. Lydon said CMAQ funding could come to as much as $7.6 million. That would mean the committee will have turned the $250,000 in CPA funds into a little more than $10 million for the bike trail project, he said.
“I think this Annual Town Meeting we can set our sights on something a little bit more grand,” he said.
There was some confusion expressed by committee members over whether the CPA funds from Special Town Meeting could be used only as a match for any Mass Trails grant that would be awarded. If so, the CPA money could not be spent on design costs for each of the project’s phases.
Mr. Lydon said he would research the issue and report back to the committee at its next meeting.