|By Carley Dangona|
WESTFIELD – The next phase of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail received the green light at the most recent meeting of the City Council. Once the check is in hand of the project engineer, the project can commence.
At its meeting Nov. 21, the City Council approved the use of a $2 million grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for use to construct Phase 2 of the greenway. Supporters of the project faced a setback when this grant was not offered to the community last year.
On the city website, www.cityofwestfield.org, the boundaries of the projected are described on the Engineering Department’s page under its “Current projects” section.
It states, “Extending the recent Southwick Town line [boarder of the Southwick Rail Trail] to Little River construction of the trail north [Phase 1] to East Silver Street with connections to South Broad Street and Colman Avenue. Work includes rehabilitation of railroad over Little River Bridge with overlooks, replacement of railroad over South Meadow Road Bridge, installation of a ten-foot wide multi-use trail together with associated elements of railing, kiosk, informational signage and landscaping.”
Jeff LaValley, chair of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail Inc. board of directors, said, “The reason Phase 2 is so exciting is because the direct access on East Silver Street will be the first time in Westfield history that there will be direct access from the Rail Trail to downtown.”
He noted the potential for a “destination downtown” because the entire Rail Trail is a 72-mile network that reaches as far south as New Haven, Conn.
City Engineer Mark Cresotti echoed the sentiment. “Bike trails have demonstrated they are good business generators. That [effect] is noticeable in Southwick. This will be a positive phase for the Columbia Greenway. There are many special elements in the project,” he said, adding that the trail will advertise itself.
Cresotti is again at the helm for the construction of the Rail Trail. He said that once the grant check is in his hand, he could award the contract for the project, which has already been sent for bid. He anticipated that the city will order the materials for the project this winter and that the physical site work preparation would begin in March of 2014.
LaValley thanked city officials for their continued support of both phases of the Rail Trail. “We knew the mayor and his team were committed to making this project happen,” he said. The grant for the second phase was anticipated to be available to the community last summer, but the state did not offer it for the project.
LaValley cited late summer or early fall of 2014 as a “hopefully optimistic” timeline for Phase 2 opening. “We need to be realistic. Projects of the magnitude can run into unforeseen circumstances,” he said, noting that this phase requires the reconstruction of two bridges.
For Cresotti, the finished product is his favorite part of a project because during the construction process there is a potential that something can go wrong. “At its conception, the trail was a long shot, a daunting task. To see it come to fruition [is rewarding],” he said. He explained that the sheer cost of renovating the bridges for the greenway could have derailed the entire project.
While Phase 2 gets underway, the Friends will continue to educate the community about awareness and the safety of bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The group is also in the process of creating its next strategic plan.
For LaValley and the Friends, the reconstruction of Western Avenue is related to the Rail Trail. “Our ultimate vision is for a network of trails that is safe for all users and ages,” he said. He explained that the current plan for the project only creates a shoulder for these types of roadway users.
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