Photo: The crossing at Brighton Street.
Paul Roberts is determined for one more time to rouse supporters to save the proposed community path as it nears a possible pivotal vote on its future course by the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, Nov. 19.
“Once again into the breach, my friends,” declared Roberts, paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Henry V [“Once more unto the breach, dear friends”] on Twitter directing those to an impassioned post dated Sunday, Nov. 18 on his community-oriented Bogging Belmont site.
“[T]he Community Path faces a critical vote Monday evening by the Board of Selectmen and there’s at least a passing chance that staunch and sustained opposition to a common sense route along the Commuter Rail tracks by abutters on Channing Road will force a decision that could doom the construction of the path,” warned Roberts.
Monday’s agenda calls for the selectmen to review the draft application for the path and “possible discussion and vote on the path route,” which has been the most contentious issue facing the bike/pedestrian trail for the past two decades.
(In a rather interesting detail from the agenda, the selectmen are setting aside a mere 10 minutes on the item, apparently not taking public comment or conduct a lengthy discussion on the matter before a possible vote.)
For supporters and opponents of a northern route, until late this summer, it appeared the route was all but finalized. The recommendation by the consultant, Pare Corp., which produced the path feasibility study earlier this year was for the trail to stay on the north side of the commuter rail tracks than transitioning to a southern path via a new pedestrian underpass near Alexander Street than travel along the southern side of the tracks to Brighton Street. From there, travelers would need to cross over the tracks to meet an existing bikeway leading to the Alewife MBTA station.
As supporters of what is called the “direct” path observed, two important changes have occurred since the study was released; the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) declared the underpass and the route from Belmont Center to the Cambridge line would not longer be seen as a single but two distinct projects, thus decoupling the funding for each project.
In addition, during discussions in August with town officials, selectmen and Belmont’s elected reps – State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Dave Rogers – MBTA and MassDOT stated clearly they would seriously object to doling out upwards to 90 percent of the estimated $10 million construction cost of the path if the town’s plans continued to show people crossing the tracks at Brighton Street, deeming the action “unnecessarily unsafe,” according to MassDOT. It became clear, to path supporters, that only one viable option remained, the path staying on a northern side of the tracks.
In recent comments made at open meetings, it would appear the Selectmen are leaning heavily on the route hugging the commuter track’s north side s from Belmont Center to Brighton Street where it will hook up with the existing trail. Speaking in favor of a $1 million request from the Community Preservation Committee to pay for an engineering study of the path last week, Selectmen’s Chair Adam Dash said he envisioned the study to determine “what is required to make the northern route viable.”
“You’ll make the Selectmen’s ‘tough vote’ a lot easier by showing up to their hearing room Monday evening and voicing strong support for a compromise with the MBTA that will send the path along the North side of the tracks,” wrote Roberts.
Widely sent email claim “clandestine” actions
While Roberts is issuing the clarion call for supporters of the route, email correspondences from those opposing the northern route is asking residents for pushback to the selectmen’s likely rejection of the conclusions of the $200,000 feasibility study and the recommendation of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee, a town-committee created to develop to move forward the preferred Community Path route, after a heated meeting in October.
In an email that mirrors several others being sent to residents, the letter is urging the selectmen to “endorse the exhaustive, fully transparent public process of both the [CPIAC] and the Pare Corporation.”
But the letter also trumpets its own call to arms, predicting that despite a large number of public meetings which residents allegedly preferred a southern route, there [are] “subtle suggestions” that the “selectmen will ignore the vote of the Committee and the Consultant in favor of some unclear, undisclosed reason.”
And the opponents have taken to pointing fingers specifically at State Sen. Brownsberger as being part and parcel in “clandestine discussions” with the MBTA and Mass DOT to promote alternative route that “both the Consultant and the CPIAC [said] have no merit.”
Along with a litany of past “problems” facing a northern route – environmental, needed easement, safety and possible legal action by a number of opponents – the letter also hones onto the premise the southern route is “a much more pleasant choice,” a point driven home by Belmont resident and developer Brian Burke at the October meeting of the CPIAC which ended in a bitterly divided vote.
It is Burke who is also promoting a “solution” to the need to cross the tracks at Brighton Street, predicting that a developer of a large commercial complex in Cambridge will build sometime in the next decade a pedestrian “bridge” over the commuter rail tracks allowing a southern route that will eventually connect with the current bike path to Alewife.
What was noted at the October CPIAC meeting was Burke’s proposed solution has not passed further than the idea stage, as the development and bridge lacks a plan, an architect, a design or an OK from the MBTA and Mass DOT.