Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in Framingham

It was welcome news last week that a meeting and site walk has been scheduled for April 29, between Sudbury and Framingham town officials and CSX Corporation. CSX is the international transportation giant that still owns the New Haven Railroad Framingham & Lowell line right of way from Route 20 in Sudbury to Route 9 in Framingham.

First proposed nearly thirty years ago by its namesake, who was a state representative from Chelmsford,  progress on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has been surging in recent years. Beginning at the Lowell-Chelmsford line, the first phase of the 25-mile route is complete and opened in 2009, ending in the town of Westford (pictured at left), and encompasses 6.8 miles. All of the other sections of the trail, with the exception of the final one on the southern edge of Sudbury to Framingham Centre, have been obtained from CSX and are either in the design or construction phase. 

Full disclosure: I am an abutter of the railroad right of way, and when I purchased my home in Nobscot in 2007, the future prospect of a rail trail running behind my property was a strong incentive to move to the neighborhood. I have been an enthusiastic user of rail trails throughout the region and believe they bring many benefits to the communities in which they exist.

The fact that progress on the Framingham section of the trail has been stalled for years was discouraging, since it could be an important piece of the puzzle to revitalizing Nobscot village. The rail bed runs right next to Hemenway School, the site of the new McAuliffe branch library, presently under construction, and the moribund Nobscot shopping center. Imagine a day when students, library users, and shoppers could walk or bike to all of these locations and more on a paved trail through the woods, away from motorized traffic.

Rail trails, as studies have shown, are linked to higher local property values, lower crime rates, and often are a strong economic development driver for communities, as businesses spring up to serve trail users, such as bike shops, restaurants, coffee and ice cream shops, even bed and breakfasts and other types of lodgings, particularly on long distance trails. One need only pay a visit to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which is slightly shorter than the BFRT, and gets about 400,000 users a year, to see the transformative effect a rail trail can have on an area. 

Kudos to Framingham town manager Bob Halpin for getting this project back on the town's radar. If, like me, you're a believer in the benefits the BFRT will bring to our town, let Bob, the Board of Selectmen, and town meeting members know the project has your support.