Sudbury’s $12 million rail trail project should be ready for construction next fall

by Zane Razzaq, Metro West Daily News

SUDBURY — Slowly but surely, the local pieces of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail are falling into place.

Sudbury has nearly finished designs and is getting environmental permits in order.

On Tuesday night, the Select Board received an update on the $12 million-plus project, bids for which should be advertised next June 25.

“This is the date we’re really, really focused on and prioritizing,” said Beth Suedmeyer, the town’s environmental planner.

Select Board Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts said the board has heard from many residents who are anxious and excited about the project. She asked the project’s representatives to reach out if they needed help.

Kerry Sorrentino, Board of Health nurse, of Tewksbury, left, leads the Board of Health Walking Group along the Bruce Freeman Trail in Chelmsford, July 20, 2018.
“If you are running into obstacles or lacking resources you need to move this forward, please escalate that to us… there’s a lot of excitement about this and there’s also some skepticism about this project, too: ‘Is this really going to happen?'” said Roberts. “So I hope we can show that, yes, this is going to happen.”

Where is the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail?
The Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is a 25-mile rail trail running from Lowell to Framingham, along the former Lowell Secondary Track right-of-way of the Old Colony Railroad. The first phase, totaling 6.8 miles, includes Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford, and the first part of the second phase — also called Phase 2A, and totaling 4.9 miles through Westford, Carlisle, and Acton — are open.

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The intent of the project is to connect the north-south rail trail with the southern point of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, connecting Framingham with Lowell.

Two segments of the paved path will run through Sudbury.

The northern section, which is currently in design, includes 4.4 miles from the Concord line to Station Road, while the southern section runs from the MBTA corridor to Framingham.

The town recently acquired this second 1.4-mile segment for $1.2 million last year. Voters approved the purchase first at a Sept. 12 Town Meeting and again during the Nov. 3 election, with the Select Board ultimately signing off.

For the next major milestone in the project, contractors will be invited to submit proposals for building Sudbury’s portion of the rail trail. The state Department of Transportation will hire a team to complete the work.

The project must be “shovel ready” by October to take advantage of state and federal funds for construction.

Over the summer, the town submitted 75% designs of the project to state transportation officials and will likely submit the final design in mid-January. There were no major issues or requests for changes that would significantly impact the project, said Suedmeyer.

What about bathrooms and parking?
The state wants more information about the town’s requests for a bathroom, pavilion, hydration stations, parking, connector paths, kiosks, interpretive signs and granite posts. Suedmeyer said the town is confident those items will be included in the state and federal construction budget, as it would be consistent with other shared use paths.

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If some items are not paid for as part of the project, the MassDOT project could potentially still prepare for them with grading, concrete pad installation, and more. If MassDOT does not cover those items, the town has requested two Community Preservation Act Funding applications for the project, with one request covering construction that might not be covered by MassDOT.

The other request would be to fund the design and construction of the BFRT extension south of the intersection with the Mass Central Rail Trail along the former-CSX corridor, which is directly south of the section currently in design, running from the MBTA corridor to Framingham.

Suedmeyer said the town has also completed a Chapter 91 review, a process all waterfront projects in Massachusetts go through to make sure public use of tidelands and other waterways is protected. Sudbury’s portion of the rail will require a conversion of a bridge over the Hop Brook from railroad use to public multi-use trail, making the review required.

The state determined that work will consist of just minor tweaks and is therefore exempt from the full, time-consuming permitting, said Suedmeyer.

$12 million for Sudbury portion
According to the town, more than $12 million in state and federal funds are committed to Sudbury’s portion of the project thanks to work completed, including preliminary design, land survey and data collection, project approval by the state Department of Transportation, and more.

The town also expects to have completed the design stage, right-of-way process, lease agreement, and environmental permitting next summer, as well as the lease agreement with the rail division, which also requires Town Meeting approval.

In his past experience, Nicholas Lapointe, project manager at engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill, said finalizing lease agreements with rail divisions can sometimes “come down to the wire.”

“As soon as we can get that wrapped up, that will basically eliminate a lot of the risk this project has. Because that can take up to 200 days to execute,” said Lapointe.

Lapointe said he felt the town is already underway with the process, as a draft version of the lease is currently being reviewed.

Len Simon, a former Select Board member and town resident, suggested a Town Meeting be held as soon as possible so the lease agreement can be approved quickly.

That way, “we’re not running up against the time buffer beginning with a May Town meeting to address any hiccups or delays that occur,” he said.

Lapointe said MassDOT is also motivated to have the project succeed.

“MassDOT does not want to accept failure either. The town should have high confidence that we’ll see shovels in the ground,” said Lapointe.

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