Next steps for the Boston Worcester Air Line Trail project

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Next steps for the Boston Worcester Air Line Trail project
This map shows an overview of the Boston Worcester Airline Trail. (Photo/Town of Westborough)

WESTBOROUGH – Town leaders laid out the next steps for the proposed shared-use Boston Worcester Air Line Trail (BWALT) running through Westborough.

Town Manager Kristi Williams presented the implementation plan for the project during the Aug. 9 Select Board meeting.

“Great work,” said Chair Ian Johnson after her presentation. “It’s what we’ve been waiting for and expecting.”

The trail would begin at the Southborough and Westborough town line. The name of the line has its origins from the nickname of the trolley right-of-way, which serves as the core of the trail.

The feasibility study estimated that the BWALT would attract over 160,000 trips on an annual basis. Local spending from trail users, increased property values and reduction of vehicle traffic were among the projected benefits from the trail.

While the BWALT feasibility study was being completed, the Select Board directed the town to pause its pursuit of easements.

The BWALT feasibility study was completed in 2019 with the help of a MassTrails grant. Back in October, the BWALT feasibility study was accepted by the Select Board.

At that time, the Select Board asked Williams to develop an implementation plan.

She worked with Active Transportation and Safety Committee Chair Julie Squires and member Don Burn, Select Board member Shelby Marshall, Department of Public Works Director Chris Payant, Town Planner Jim Robbins and Community Development Director Fred Lonardo.

The group met with Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) in February to discuss the plan and the trail’s funding, and the next month, CMRPC coordinated a meeting between Westborough, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and other trail groups.

“I think we all learned a lot in talking with some other groups from different communities as well as MassDOT,” Williams said.

While the feasibility plan recommended that the project should be funded and constructed at once, Williams said the town is proposing to construct the trail in segments after officials talked with the other organizations.

“[We] would prioritize a section of trail and start to move in terms of easement acquisition, application for funding sources and then construction,” Williams said. “We also felt like that would give us the opportunity to show proof of concept or value to the community as we started to look for funding to continue.”

Next steps for BWALT

There has been some work on the trail over the past several years, particularly in regards to developments being constructed along the proposed trail.

The town will update the status on each section.

According to Williams, sections will be prioritized for development, and those prioritizations will be presented to the Active Transportation and Safety Committee.

In regards to the easements, the Select Board voted to allow the town to resume acquiring and pursuing easements in those priority sections.

The town will work with a consultant to determine the cost of engineering and design for the segments. MassTrails, which has a February application deadline, would be targeted as a funding source, Williams said. Westborough also plans to work with CMRPC to create materials for community members and co-host a meeting with stakeholders in the winter.

There may be articles related to the project — such as to accept easements — at the annual Town Meeting.

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