Photo: Russell Leino (center), chair of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee with Heather Ivestor (left) and Brian Burke.
The Belmont Board of Selectmen took a significant step in moving the idea of a town community path towards reality when it approved the hiring an engineering consultant to create a feasibility study of a dozen proposed routes from the Waltham line to the Alewife bike path off of Brighton Street.
“Once [the Selectmen] makes a decision, we can make this happen,” said Russell Leino, chair of the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee, which is overseeing the process for the town.
“Let’s get going with a [request for proposal] and move forward,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo, after hearing from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee at its meeting Monday, Dec. 15 at Town Hall.
Bowing to residents along Channing Road whose south-lying properties abut a favorite proposed path, the selectmen approved a suggestion by Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady to have an additional route, traveling along a portion of Concord Avenue, added to the list of reviewed paths.
In his presentation, Leino said the guiding principle of the five-member group is not to “reinvent the wheel” instead build on the work of its predecessor, the Community Path Advisory Committee, which did the heavy lifting of carving out the possible routes through town.
The five-member Implementation Advisory Committee (Leino, Vincent Stanton, Heather Ivestor, Michael Cicalese and Brian Burke) was created a year ago to develop recommended strategies for the design, construction and implementation of community path route options selected by the Selectmen, “diving deep” into the routes recommended by CPAC, focusing on any choke points including rough terrain or intersections on busy roadways.
In addition to the pathway, the committee looked into an underpass from Alexander Avenue to the south side of the commuter rail tracks that would allow residents and students transverse from the Winn Brook neighborhood to Belmont High School safely.
After spending a great deal of time adhering to the mandate, “we are now at the stage to put pen to paper” by moving to a feasibility study,” said Leino.
During the initial process, the study will help determine “what things did we missed? What are things that CPAC missed? Are there alternatives that we should be thinking of?” said Leino.
With the Selectmen’s approval in hand, a draft request for proposal (RFP) will be put out to bid in early January. Leino expects to hire a firm in late spring and have a completed feasibility study by the end of 2016. A group will decide on a final recommended route that will be sent to the Selectmen in the Spring of 2017.
The $100,000 to hire the engineering consultancy comes from a grant from the Community Preservation Committee that was approved by the 2015 Town Meeting.
In addition to the CPC funds, the Massachusetts legislature approved a $100,000 earmark that would pay for a study. If Gov. Baker releases the funding – no small feat in this time of fiscal restraint – the state money could replace or, supplement the town’s funds.
According to Leino, once the final route has been selected, the committee can then focus on funding a project, which could be the least difficult portion of the project. A Belmont community path is in line for both national and federal grants that would pay for nearly 90 percent of the total cost of approximately $10 million for the 2.2-mile route.
Leino said because Belmont is a significant link to an extensive bike path from Somerville to Berlin, Mass and will lie close to other popular community routes nearby in Cambridge, Watertown, and Arlington, “we’d be right up there in priority for funding.”
The federal and state money would be available once the town invests about $1 million into the trail as they “want us to have some skin in the game,” said Leino.
Despite that the feasibility study is more than a year away, there is pushback from residents in two neighborhoods – Channing Road and homes on Clark Lane adjacent to Clark Road – to the path’s proximity to the property lines and the chance that homeowners on Clark Lane and the Boston Housing Authority could lose a portion of their land to the path.
Baghdady’s request for the feasibility study to look into using Concord Avenue and School Department land at Belmont High School came after some Channing Road residents felt the Community Path Advisory Committee did not give that proposal enough consideration.
Leino said that the Advisory Committee found the Concord Avenue route was “impractical” for several reasons including busy intersections, traffic, active driveways and other impediments. Also, a Concord Avenue route would effectively end financing plans for an underpass at Alexander Avenue, said Paolillo.
But Baghdady did not see an additional route as overburdening the feasibility study.
“The objective is to have a community path and to me, the more options we have before us, the better decision we can make,” said Baghdady, winning the argument.