To the Editor –
At the upcoming [Westborough] Annual Town Meeting, Article 12 asks voters to redirect the $57,000 requested by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) last October from building an isolated section of the Boston Worcester Air Line Trolley (BWALT) Trail to a comprehensive engineering study of the entire trail.
Why the change?
BPAC wanted to start work on this section without recorded easements, up-to-date cost estimates, final plans and required permits. There was no way to get all that complete before the matching state grant expires this June.
BWALT is a town funded public works project, but it was never treated as one.
Imagine if the Town Hall renovation had been managed by an ad hoc committee of volunteers who had no plans, cost estimate, schedule, or knowledge of regulatory issues and who came to Town Meeting asking for incremental funding over many years.
BPAC, the primary driving force behind the trail, has “managed” this project that way since 2012, which is unacceptable.
The trail “design” consists of colored lines on a map. Today we still don’t know anything about the construction and maintenance costs, schedule, regulatory and legal issues. We taxpayers have the right to know this information, up front.
BWALT is a great idea conceptually, but it is not a normal “rail-to-trails” project. The right-of-way was sold off piecemeal decades ago. The trail cuts through neighborhoods, industrial areas, business parks, and protected wetlands, requiring many easements and permits.
Some homeowners are so angry about the way BPAC treated them that they are considering legal action. Another easement cannot be used, because it crosses over an endangered-species Conservation Restriction, making the Lyman to Park Street trail section almost impossible to build.
The Conservation Commission warned BPAC about this conflict in 2016, so I was surprised when they asked for more funds last fall. I started asking questions and people started paying attention.
Last month, the Selectmen took the project away from BPAC, so we can actually plan and design the trail. When the study is complete, we will be able to make knowledgeable decisions about the trail’s future.
I urge Town Meeting to vote for this article.
(Koenigsberg is chair of the Westborough Conservation Commission. This letter is not endorsed by the Commission. )