By Debra Parkhurst
The Selectmen heard an update on the Minuteman Bikeway Design at their meeting on February 13. Engineers Trish Domigan and Pete Sorensen of Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin (VHB) briefly outlined the project’s history, approved by Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation in 2014 at a cost of just over $4 million. The project extends the Minuteman Bikeway from Depot Park to the Concord town line, a distance of 2.2 miles. The Minuteman Bikeway, one of the first rail-trails in the nation, is widely considered an important commuter and recreational resource.
According to VHB, the plan includes construction of a 10-foot wide shared use path on the south side of Railroad Avenue., a two- foot wide grass buffer between the shared path and the road, two 10-foot travel lanes, and then a four- foot sidewalk on the north side. Railroad Avenue and a portion of Commercial Avenue will be reconstructed, including new drainage as well as a protected crossing and gravel parking on Railroad Avenue. Part of the project also includes traffic signal upgrades and a bikeway crossing at South Road and Loomis Street.
The 12- foot wide paved bike path, with three–foot shoulders on either side, will then continue down the existing railroad bed, now called the “Reformatory Branch,” crossing both Hartwell Road and Concord Road.
Parking lots will be available at Railroad Avenue, Lavender Lane, and Concord Road. Access is provided to all adjacent pathways and side streets. Protected crossings will be installed on Railroad Avenue, Hartwell Road, and Concord Road. The engineers are evaluating the crossing at Concord Road, looking at either an at-grade signal crossing or an underpass. At one time, the railroad went under Concord Road. That bridge was removed in 1967.
VHB anticipates another public hearing this summer and hopes to have the project on the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) “TIP” (Transportation Improvement Program) sheet, with environmental permitting in 2017/2018. The Federal government provides 80% of the construction costs, with 20% coming from the State level. The town pays for design and right-of-way acquisitions, already approved by Bedford. The engineers noted that while some projects take some time for funding, the “TIP” is “fluid,” in that the MPO may ask for smaller projects during their process. Construction could commence in 2019.
The Selectmen had some concerns about a full signal at Concord Road, where there is no traffic light between Bedford Center and Concord Center. The speed limit is posted at 35 mph, while the average speed is 42 mph in that area. Given that the State may soon allow local jurisdiction over speed limits, the town may want to further control speed near that crossing.
Neighbors on Railroad Avenue were assured that the sidewalk on the north side would be installed for the entire street distance. Others attendees expressed concern for the wetlands impact along the newly paved way heading to Concord Road. VHB said the original railroad bed was of sufficient width so as not to pose a problem. As part of the process, VHB will collect data, flag the wetlands, and create a model to show the various slopes that tie into the surface.
Domigan commented that this is a significant bikeway resource that promotes healthy travel in the area.