WESTFIELD – The Community Preservation Committee met Jan. 9 to re-elect officers and consider a new proposal for a Columbia Greenway Rail Trail (CGRT) connector spur to Country Club Drive.
City Engineer Mark Cressotti presented the request for $160,000 for the CGRT connector spur. He said following up on his last appearance before the CPC, it was evident that the City Council and then-Mayor Brian P. Sullivan wanted to see Community Preservation Act funds going to the Rail Trail.
Thomas Sharp, who was re-elected as chairman, along with Joseph Muto as vice-chair, asked Cressotti how much the commission had awarded to the CGRT to date. Cressotti said there have been three awards, totaling $590,000.
Sharp said he thought he remembered Cressotti saying he “wouldn’t darken our doors again” following the last request. Cressotti responded that the current proposal is not for the Rail Trail itself, but for the crossing on Shaker Road. He said he was there to try to enhance a safer connector to the trail from Country Club Drive.
“The hope is to build a connection from Shaker Road to the CGRT,” Cressotti said.
According to the proposal on the city website, the intent of this project is to provide safe, off-road accommodations to users of the Columbia Greenway. Users currently travel the shoulder of Shaker Road, a busy bypass around the city by both automobiles and trucks, posing a substantial safety concern as well as a disincentive to use. The proposed work also includes enhanced safety measures for users of the Columbia Greenway at the Shaker Road crossing.
The proposal would create a connector from the overflow parking lot in the rear of Shaker Farms Country Club to the CGRT. Part of the funding would also enhance the crossing of the CGRT on Shaker Road with scarified pavement to slow traffic. Cressotti said the $160,000 would fund the construction of the 400-foot connector and traffic safety enhancements.
“People are talking about the safety issue on Shaker Road,” said CPC member Cheryl Crowe.
Sharp said he loves the Rail Trail, but is having a little problem doing something for the 100 homes that Cressotti said would be served by the connector. He asked Cressotti what would be the city’s portion of the costs.
Cressotti said there would be $30,000 in non-CPA funds invested, and $50,000 from in-kind donations.
“Having driven that road every day for 10 years, there is definitely a need,” said Committee member Cynthia Gaylord. She said her “heart stops” every time she sees bikes on the Shaker Road crossing, especially young children.
Sharp asked Cressotti how much it would be to just pay for enhancing the crossing. “I’d gladly sponsor the motion to do that,” he said.
Muto said he agreed with Sharp, and asked Cressotti whether the project was time sensitive. Cressotti said the city is six months into a three-year permit from the Conservation Commission to build the connector.
“The amount we spent on the CGRT; this is one-sixth, and it does not nearly benefit as many,” Muto said.
Committee member Bill Porter said he agreed, and had concerns about the cost and the number of people it would serve. He asked whether there were other alternatives, such as speed bumps on Shaker Road.
Cressotti said speed bumps are not a good idea on heavily traveled roads, but that the textured pavement would be a deterrent.
City Planner Jay Vinskey said the city had looked at creating the connector a few years ago, and that there were CPA funds available to do the project.
Earlier in the meeting, Vinskey had reported a total remaining of $413,131 in the Undesignated account, $102,937 in Open Space, and $298,932 in Housing, plus a state match of $65,431.
Muto said the committee agreed that it’s a good project, but were balking at the amount.
“I’m not against this. With all of the money you’ve asked the CPC for, I would support $100,000 and push back on the $60,000 from somewhere else,” Crowe said.
Cressotti said besides the $600,000 spent by the CPC, the city has spent $2.5 million of Chapter 90 funds on the CGRT to date, and has received more than $6 million in grants. “It is a big investment,” he said.
Committee member Dan Kelly said that Cressotti mentioned he would go to Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. about the project. “If someone comes before us with a project, we take it seriously. I drive that road, too; it’s a busy road, and definitely needs something,” Kelly said.
The consensus of the committee was that they would support $100,000 towards the project. A motion was made to leave it in committee until the next scheduled meeting on April 9 at 6:30 p.m., which will also be the date of the annual public hearing on CPA projects and priorities.