Public Meeting Held to Review Feasibility Study for Metacomet Greenway
By Marjorie Turner Hollman
Advocates for the proposed Metacomet Greenway passed another milestone, moving the project further along. Residents and others who are interested in the project met in person and by Zoom on Wednesday, April 19, to hear and ask questions about the feasibility study completed by the engineering firm VHB.
The Metacomet Rail Trail is proposed to go from N. Attleboro, through Plainville, Wrentham, Norfolk, terminating in Walpole. The project is still in its beginning phase. During the meeting in Wrentham, it was pointed out that Wrentham and Norfolk are both at the feasibility study stage. Norfolk has a smaller segment of the proposed trail than Wrentham.
The spokesman for VHB, William DeSantis, went through the important points in the study, available on Wrentham.gov., and during the presentation responded to a number of questions residents had about the project.
While DeSantis offered a broad overview of the entire project, he focused primarily on Wrentham’s part of the whole. He described several alternate plans for building the trail from the Plainville line through Wrentham and into Norfolk.
After explaining the options available to connect the trail with the William A. Rice Recreational Complex, DeSantis focused primarily on Segment 1, which stretches from the Plainville line up to Wrentham center. This is an intact right of way, site of the original rail bed this project is based upon. However, this section is privately owned by National Grid. Those in attendance learned that National Grid is amenable to negotiating an easement of some sort with the town of Wrentham. This willingness to negotiate with the town goes a long way toward making the building of the trail possible for this specific segment.
Many rail trail projects take more than fifteen years to complete. Wrentham’s portion of the Metacomet Greenway has the advantage of having the support of the Wrentham Recreation Commission. In addition, Wrentham has Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding in place that may be one source of monies needed to make the trail a reality.
Design and permitting are estimated to take at least two years before any construction can begin. The mile-long section from the Plainville line to Wrentham center is estimated to take three to four years to complete if funding is available.
When asked about funding sources, several options, including grants, were discussed. State monies may be available. State Recreational Trails Program (RTP grants) have been provided to many rail trail projects across the state. Chuck Adelsberger (Wrentham Recreation Commission member) noted, “If you can show the project has regional scope you stand a better chance of getting grants.” Planning level construction costs for Segment 1 are estimated to be between $1 million and $4 million.
Many of the questions that were brought up at this meeting were met with the answer “It’s up to you.” Would the path be paved or crushed stone dust? Three options exist to connect the rail trail to another portion that is in Norfolk. Which one will be chosen? For these and many other questions, the answer was the same--It’s up to the town, and most likely decided by a vote at town meeting. A non-negotiable point is that the trail must meet federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
A priority in the planning of the rail trail route is to connect the trail to the William A. Rice Recreation Complex (the site of the former Wrentham State School). Two of the proposed options would accomplish this, but traffic, housing developments, and other barriers all may affect the ultimate decision for how the trail would get through Wrentham to Norfolk. A third, possibly most feasible option, would not be able to connect the trail with the recreation complex.
Near the end of the meeting, attendees were urged to “Get done what you can, when you can, as soon as you can.” Those at the meeting were also advised, “These projects usually do not get everything done at once.”
The feasibility study offers detailed information that residents can read for themselves to help better understand the possibilities and potential this project has to increase recreational opportunities in town and improve transportation options.
The Metacomet Greenway committee has been organizing grass-roots efforts to bring this project to the attention of local officials, and has been successful in gaining the support of important boards in the towns the trail would be built in. Zack McKeever, the committee’s president, noted that parts of the proposed right of way are already being used by residents. These locations have no designated parking, are dirt paths (often used by dirt bikes), and may be overgrown in places.
The individual sections are not connected, but interest is growing, which gives many of us hope that we will one day have a local, accessible rail trail available for both residents and visitors who enjoy getting outdoors and being more active. Stay tuned for more developments.
To lend support for this project, email metacometgreen[email protected] or message the Metacomet Greenway’s Facebook page.
to read the feasibility study and other Metacomet Greenway information.