Published in the November 10, 2016 edition.
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — WorldTech Engineering will be submitting a 25 percent design submission of the proposed Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) in December.
The consulting team gave an update on the project to a standing room only crowd at the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center last week.
The proposed Rail Trail project entails building a 4.4-mile recreational trail along an abandoned rail bed beginning at the Galvin Middle School on Main Street in Wakefield and extending through Lynnfield to the Peabody line. Approximately 1.9 miles of the trail is located within Wakefield and about 2.5 miles is located in Lynnfield. The proposed trail would run through Reedy Meadow for just over half a mile.
MassDOT will fully fund the construction of the project through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The project is on the list to be funded in fiscal year 2018 at $7.6 million. The 25 percent design submission is one of the steps required by the MassDOT program.
WorldTech Vice President Bill Mertz, who is serving as the project’s director, said the purpose of the forum was to listen to residents’ “thoughts and concerns.”
“Whether you are for the trail or against the trail, the designers are looking to get input from the community,” said Mertz. “It will help inform our design that we will be submitting to MassDOT.”
Mertz said the project is currently in the “preliminary design phase.” He said the Rail Trail will include bikeway construction, access points at different locations, parking areas, safety improvements at roadway crossings, new signs, pavement markings, and pavement and landscape improvements. The proposed Wakefield access points for the trail are at the Galvin Middle School and the Water and Vernon Street intersection. The proposed Lynnfield access points are at Lynnfield Middle School and Lynnfield High School.
After scrapping plans to use a series of flatbed rail cars to span the portion of the trail that goes through Reedy Meadow, Mertz said WorldTech is now looking to construct “an elevated boardwalk structure” through Reedy Meadow.
BETA Group Engineer Bill McGrath said the proposed boardwalk structure would be elevated off the tracks. He said there will be areas along the boardwalk where people can observe the scenery.
“It’s cheaper than the rail car option,” said McGrath. “We think this is the most feasible and viable way to get across the meadow.”
LEC Environmental President Ann Marton said the boardwalk would not have any negative impact on Reedy Meadow’s environment and wildlife.
BETA Group Landscape Architect Randy Collins gave an overview of different types of screenings for abutters such as fences or landscaping. He said the Rail Trail can include other amenities such as benches, bike racks, kiosks, planters, signs and trail markers.
In addition to the consultants working on the project, Huckleberry Road resident Vincent Inglese read a statement from local resident and Boston Athletic Association Executive Director Tom Grilk. Inglese said Grilk is an abutter to the project.
“I endorse the development of the fitness trail because it’s an important and much needed benefit for our community,” read Grilk’s statement. “In my role as chief executive officer of the Boston Athletic Association and Boston Marathon, and previously as a business lawyer working locally, nationally and internationally, I have had the opportunity to observe and use many such fitness trails. Wherever they are built, they are highly valued because they are a safe and tranquil place to personal health and fitness, whether it’s walking, running, cycling or pushing a child in a carriage. They are highly prized assets that enhance the health of residents and the value of their property. I welcome it to my backyard.”
Additionally, Topsfield Rail Trail Committee member Dave Read spoke about his experiences with rail trails in both Topsfield and Salem.
“We have a four-mile trail in Topsfield that leads to Wenham,” said Read. “We have had absolutely no issues with our trail.”
Similar to previous Rail Trail meetings, the crowd was divided on the project and tensions ran high at certain points.
Several residents took issue with Read appearing at the forum. A man in attendance asked Read if he “got any money” to attend the forum, which Read denied.
A woman in attendance also took issue with Read’s appearance.
“I don’t want to hear people’s opinions about the trail,” the woman said. “I want to hear facts about the trail and what it’s going to bring to the community.”
WorldTech Engineering President Richard Benevento took offense with the angry residents attacking Read.
“We are not here tonight to talk about whether or not you do the trail or don’t do the trail,” said Benevento. “We are the engineers who are trying to get input on this project. We are not politicians. We want to talk about design issues and things you would like see on the trail. If you don’t want to see anything on the trail, that is OK too.”
After the forum quieted down, the consultants participated in a question-and-answer session with residents.
A woman said there are brush fires that occur in Reedy Meadow frequently and claimed the town would be on the hook for replacing the boardwalk if it goes up in flames. She asked if the fire department would be able to access the trail if there is a fire.
Collins said the boardwalk would be designed to accommodate a small fire truck such as a pumper as well as ambulances.
Dan Tammaro, 475 Lowell St., said both abutters and residents from other parts of town oppose the project. He noted there was a man who exposed himself and tried to grab a woman on the Marblehead Rail Trail late last month.
Collins disagreed with Tammaro’s assertion violent crime occurs on rail trails frequently.
“If you look at the different types of violent crime that occur in a community and look at the rail trail itself, the rail trail itself has less crime than the community average,” said Collins. “Those are facts.”
A woman asked what ideas are being considered to ensure the trail is safe. Collins said Blue Boxes or call boxes could be installed along the trail. He said the proposal would be discussed with public safety officials.
Salvatore Giugliano, 1 Giugliano Ter., claimed the entire Rail Trail is located in wetlands.
Marton said the only part of the Rail Trail that would be constructed in wetlands is Reedy Meadow.
“The majority of the trail is not a wetland,” said Marton. “In some places, the wetland is at the tail of the slope of where the railroad bed is.”
Marton noted MassDOT takes environmental concerns “very seriously.” She also said if the project gets to the 75 percent design phase, the Rail Trail will need to receive a permit from the Conservation Commission.
“If that doesn’t happen, it will not be built,” said Marton.
Recreation Path Committee member Mark McDonough, 167 Bourque Rd., urged opponents to walk around rail trails in neighboring communities.
“We are not reinventing the wheel,” said McDonough. “There are a lot of towns that have bike paths. Go walk a rail trail and see what they are really like.”
Keith Nobil, 2 Todd Ln., expressed his support for the rail trail because it would improve safety.
“It would take bicyclists off our roads and would put them on the Rail Trail, which is a much safer place to be,” said Nobil. “It would give kids a safe avenue to get to the middle school and high school. This would be great for our town.”
In response to a question from Diana DeLeo, 7 Wildewood Dr., Benevento said the state and federal governments would fund the project. He said the two towns will have to maintain the trail after its built.
“There are some maintenance costs,” said Benevento. “When we design a project, we design it for longevity. The idea is not having it become a financial burden for either community.”
A resident of Perry Avenue said he works in Lexington and said cyclists using the Minuteman Bike Path “never obey” stop lights or stop signs.
“It’s the Tour de France,” the man said. “They think they have the right of way. There are stop signs in Lexington and they fly right through them. If you ban them, then you would have a decent walkway that you can bring your children and grandchildren with their little bicycles. They are not the problem. It’s these guys who dress up in spandex who want to fly down the trail.”
Former Recreation Path Committee member and cycling enthusiast Dick Simmons agreed with the gentleman that it’s “extremely frustrating to see cyclists blast through stop lights and stop signs.”
“There should be some consideration for something that slows the bicyclists down before they enter the intersection,” said Simmons.
Wakefield abutter Nancy Corthell, 34 Mansfield Dr., expressed concerns about loitering near people’s homes. She said benches, Blue Boxes, kiosks and trashcans should not be installed behind people’s homes.
In response to a question from another woman, Benevento said, “Wakefield wants their trail and they will probably build their trail” even Lynnfield voters reject the project.
“It has nothing to do with the Lynnfield trail,” added Benevento. “The Lynnfield segment of the trail has absolutely nothing to do with the Wakefield segment with the exception that they connect. The reason why Wakefield is the lead agency is because MassDOT and the state gave the two towns the money for the preliminary design, and (Wakefield) had to administer the payments of the design.”
Benevento said the residents’ comments will be incorporated in the project’s design. He said residents can contact either Lynnfield Town Administrator Jim Boudreau or Wakefield Town Administrator Steve Maio if they would like to provide additional suggestions.