Council acts on rail trail grant
By DAN MORIARTY
WESTFIELD – The City Council voted to accept a $1 million state grant for construction of section of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail.
Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey Jr., chairman of the Finance Committee and in whose ward much of the trail is located, made a motion for immediate consideration at the council’s Feb. 2, 2012 session to accept the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Gateway Community grant to the city’s Engineering Department for construction of the southern segment of the rail trail.
The grant will enable the city to extend the rail trail from the Southwick town line to just south of Tin Bridge, roughly a mile of paving with construction of a 60-space parking lot and several access paths to neighborhoods.
City Engineer Mark Cressotti said this morning that the city is under a time constraint to complete the southern segment of the trail in the current fiscal year which ends June 30.
“We have to move quickly on this,” Cressotti said. “We’re going to put this out to bid as soon as we can. The issue is that I can put it out to bid, but can’t award a contract until the City Council votes to accept an easement from the owners of the Shaker Farms Country Club for access to the rail trail parking.”
The Columbia Greenway construction will be coordinated with the Westfield Gas & Electric Department which is also launching a project along the rail trail. The 12-inch Southwick Lateral pipeline, bring gas from the Tennessee pipeline in Southwick to the city, currently terminates at Shaker Road.
The municipal utility plans to extend that 12-inch high-pressure pipe along the trail to Tin Bridge, then under the Little River, using horizontal drilling technology, and up to South Meadow Road. A smaller high pressure will be installed under South Broad Street and connected to existing lines.
“The G&E will do most of the clearing along the trail in advance of us,” Cressotti said. “The G&E plans to start their project in March. The bid process for a rail trail contractor will take until mid March, so I’d like to start as soon as possible after the contract is awarded because there is a time constraint.”
“We’re talking about of mile-long project and spending $1 million in a couple of months,” he said. “Hopefully there are no contingencies that slow the construction process.”
The Alliance for Biking and Walking, which promotes safety and accessibility (http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org) recently released its 2012 report which is “an essential resource and tool for government officials, advocates, and those working to promote bicycling and walking.”
“This report shows that increasing bicycling and walking are goals that are clearly in the public interest. Where bicycling and walking levels are higher, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes levels are lower. Higher levels of bicycling and walking also coincide with increased bicycle and pedestrian safety and higher levels of physical activity. Increasing bicycling and walking can help solve many serious problems facing our nation.”
“As this report indicates, many states and cities are making progress toward promoting safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians, but much more remains to be done.”
“As economic recession has impacted communities across the nation, active transportation has emerged as a promising sector for growth and revitalization. Bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects. A series of case studies in 2010, examining the construction of U.S. bicycle and pedestrian facilities, found that such projects created between 218 and 1,050 new construction jobs.”
“After an initial economic boost from construction, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure has a lasting impact on local economies. A 2009 study in Minnesota found that bicyclists on state trails spend $2.4 billion annually, supporting nearly 31,000 full- and part-time jobs. A survey of San Francisco business owners on Valencia Street found that two-thirds of merchants thought the street’s bike lanes had an overall positive impact on their business or sales.”
“Bicycling and walking also results in significant cost savings on health care spending. If just one out of every 10 adults started a regular walking program, the U.S. could save $5.6 billion in health care costs — enough to pay the college tuition of more than 1 million students. Thanks to bicycle infrastructure and programming, the City of Portland expects to see between $388 and $594 million in health savings by 2040. Cost benefit analysis show that as much as $11.80 in benefits can be gained from every $1 invested in bicycling and walking.”
Dan Moriarty can be reached at [email protected]