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City holds public meeting about rail to trail project

WESTFIELD – City of Westfield Engineer Mark Cressotti held a public information forum for the Columbia Greenway rail to trail conversion project in City Council Chambers on Thursday night.

The meeting was specifically geared towards the Central Section of the project, which is Main Street to the Westfield River.

At the beginning of the forum, Cressotti pointed out that the city already has $6.25 million earmarked for Fiscal Year 2019, which starts on Oct. 1 of 2018. Following that, the plan is to have a bid package ready by May or June of 2019 to hand over to Mass DOT (Department of Transportation) as they’ll take over the project.

City of Westfield Engineer Mark Cressotti spoke to the public about the conversion project on Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of Greg Fitzpatrick)

Mass DOT will advertise the bid and then award a contractor. Since the city will then become advisors and assist DOT with questions and concerns.

“It’s our task to advance this segment of the design,” said Cressotti.

For the Central Section of the rail trail, there will be five bridges going from Main Street to the Westfield River. There will be bridges on Elm Street and Main Street, along with three truss bridges on Thomas, Chapel, and Orange Streets.

While a few people in the crowd mentioned that there should be accommodation for parking on the Elm Street bridge, benches, and trash containers on the trails, there was also discussion about the traffic on the trail that are going by the bridge. Several people agreed that they would like to see some type of divide in the middle of the rail trails so it could slow bikers down going at a fast speed and not cause any problems or accidents for people walking.

“I like the idea of having dividers at both ends of the bridge that slows them (bikers) down,” said Daniel Call, a member of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Trail.

Ward 2 Councilor Ralph Figy talked about the benefit the bridges on Chapel and Thomas Street will have for the residents who have been annoyed with the trash trucks constantly having to back up and making noise in order to get trash. With the bridges, the trash trucks can go straight through to get trash.

“Their (bridges) going to alleviate a few of the calls I got about the trash,” said Figy.

Residents in attendance at the meeting also expressed their frustration with illegal activity happening near the section of the trail that passes by their home. Whether it’s littering, drinking, drugs, or anything else, it’s issues that people want diminished.

Eric Hall, who is a Sergeant on the Westfield Police Department, works with the community and has seen a lot of that illegal activity decrease once a rail trail has been created and caused more of a public setting that makes it tougher for people to do anything illegal out in the open. Hall believes the addition of the bridges will have the same effect.

“I think a lot of that is going to solve itself once it goes in there,” said Hall.

Before concluding the public forum, Cressotti added that he wished there were more people in attendance who had more concerns and neighbors that had issues with the project so he could focus on what to fix.

“I’m concerned that I’m not getting enough neighborhood feedback,” said Cressotti. “I’ve got more work to do to get that input in.”

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