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Council gets update on rail trail project

Date: 10/12/2011

Oct. 12, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — After a few years on the back burner, the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail is back in the forefront of city planning, and City Engineer Mark Cressotti gave the City Council an update on the project’s progress during its Oct. 5 meeting.

Cressotti told Reminder Publications he gave the council a brief overview of the progress and costs of the three-section project, and introduced members of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, a volunteer group he credited with working “very hard over the years to keep the juices flowing for the project.”

Cressotti said the northern piece of the proposed trail, which is estimated to cost $2 million, is through 25 percent of the design stage, and is slated to begin construction in fiscal year 2014.

“Currently we have funding identified in the state transportation fund program for the northern piece,” he said.

The cost estimate for the central portion of the trail, which traverses the downtown section of Westfield, is $5 million. The southern portion is estimated to cost $4 million.

Jeffrey LaValley, vice chair of Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, said the portion of the proposed 3.2 mile bike trail that will run through the business district “is elevated a story and a half above downtown ... [riders] will have fantastic views of the downtown and with the exception of the intersection at Shaker Road, will never have to cross a city street.”

He mentioned that a portion of the cost for construction of this section involves replacing a number of bridges that are no longer compliant with emergency vehicle accessibility and width standards.

“Once there are replaced, it will add to the uniqueness and character of downtown,” LaValley added.

Cressotti said that the priorities for the project have changed of late, and that completion of the southern section of the project has moved to the forefront.

“The mayor is working with state officials to garner additional state funds to address the southern section, so we’re moving rather fast to wrap up design for [that section],” Cressotti said. He said the city plans to set up a meeting later this month with neighbors that immediately abut the trail. By early next year he said the city would host meetings with the greater neighborhood, “and somewhere after that do a larger citywide update.”

He said the city is looking to advertise “some piece of the southern portion” for bids during the winter, with construction to begin on that portion of the project in the spring.

LaValley said that when completed, the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail would allow people to “get on and ride as far as New Haven, Conn.”

He added that this pedestrian and bikeway would be “a great boon for the people from Westfield traveling south and also will bring foot traffic and bicycle traffic to downtown Westfield. It will be a huge benefit to the community.”

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