Photo: Russell Leino, chair of the Community Path Project Committee at Town Day
Just how important is the vote taking place on Thursday, May 26, for the future of the Belmont Community Path?
Russell Leino, chair of the Community Path Project Committee, used “big” four times – “it’s big, big, big, big” – to describe the pending milestone of securing the money needed to build the first section of the two-mile path bisecting the town between the borders of Cambridge and Waltham.
The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on Thursday to endorse the final version of its Transportation Improvement Program – known as the TIP – which lists the construction projects in eastern Massachusetts it will fund through federal fiscal years 2023 through 2027. And the first section of Belmont’s community path was preliminarily tagged by the MTO back in 2021 for the funding slot in 2026.
By allocating funds to the path, “it says there is a solid belief in the project,” said Leino, as he held down the fort at the Community Path tent on Town Day Saturday, May 21.
A critical link of the 104-mile Mass Central Rail Trail (MCRT) from Boston to Northampton, the Belmont path is slated to receive $21 million in federal funds to build Phase 1 of the path from the Clark Street Bridge via Belmont Center and along the commuter rail tracks to the Cambridge border. In addition to the path, a pedestrian tunnel under the commuter tracks from Alexander Avenue into the new Middle and High School campus leading to Concord Avenue makes up Phase 1.
A “yes” vote on Thursday “means our our community’s interests are aligned with the state’s interest and with the feds interest. That means everybody is working together to make this make this a reality,” said Leino, who has been leading the effort to build the path from it’s first rough concept up to a working design.
The path has also received a big push from residents: at the end of a three-week comment period on May 22, the MPO received 35 letters in support, two letters in opposition and an online petition in support with 707 signatures.
While a favorable vote by the MPO on the Belmont Community Path is anticipated, there remains a great deal of work remaining for the committee, town and Nitsch Engineering – which is leading the design work – to complete as the clock begins ticking on Thursday.
“We’re at 25 percent design completion, which is a preliminary design right now. We’ve got to progress all the way to 100 percent design in just about four years,” he noted. “It’s a long road ahead. There’s lots of work for our committee to do and for the town to do to make sure the design is finalized. “
“But Thursday’s vote is just a huge step. I can’t understate how important this is,” said Leino.