SOUTHAMPTON – A 3.5-mile rail corridor that has been idle for more than 30 years is about to see movement along its tracks.
The city has been awarded a $300,000 MassTrails grant that allows it to begin the design, engineering and permitting process for a new rail trail on this corridor, City Administrator Ed Gibson said.
“This is an exciting next step in our Greenway cycle/pedestrian path which will connect to the Easthampton (Manhan) trail and also bring us closer to connecting to the Westfield rail trail,” said Gibson.
On June 28, Gibson and board chairman Chris Fowles attended a ceremony in Milton acknowledging the announcement. Southampton was one of more than 80 trail improvement projects that received funding under this scheme.
The rail line, originally completed in 1863, connected New Haven to Northampton and other New England towns. The Pioneer Valley Railroad Company has not used the line since the early 1990s.
The proposed rail trail will eventually extend from Coleman Road to College Highway. It follows a path identified in the state’s bicycle transportation plan, which was prepared in September 2008.
“This funding will allow the city to complete the design process for a missing portion of the New Haven Northampton Canal Greenway and improve the regional trail network connecting Manhan Trail in Easthampton and Columbia Greenway in Westfield,” said Fowles. . “When the unused rail line is converted to a shared-use, ADA-compliant trail, it will provide recreational opportunities for surrounding communities and be a vital part of the open space network. and natural resources of Southampton.”
She estimates that the grant will cover between 40% and 50% of the estimated cost of the design phase.
The greenway will also cross East Street about 900 feet northwest of the East Street bridge, according to Southampton Freeway Superintendent Randall Kemp. Addressing pedestrian safety issues in this area has been a major factor in moving the East Street Bridge project forward, he said.
The city has been pursuing this project for over a decade and has been discussing its possibility for over two decades. Fowles said the city has done various studies, property research and public outreach, including a feasibility study in 2011, public outreach meetings at various stages, a review of bridges and culverts along the trail. proposed in 2017 and a Phase I environmental site assessment in 2018.
In the summer of 2020, the results of the Master Plan’s community engagement survey showed that the completion of the cycle path ranked first among eight development strategies for the city. Of those who responded, 74% indicated support or strong support for the bike path, Fowles said.
As part of the state Department of Transportation’s Transportation Improvement Program, she said the state had already set aside about $6 million in funding for future construction of the trail, but the city had to complete numerous preliminary phases to access these funds. Fowles credited the Ad Hoc Grant Search Committee, of which she is the chair, for making significant progress in securing grants.
At this point, the city is coordinating with its legal representation to complete the “railbanking” agreement, which will see the city acquire the land from the Pioneer Valley Railroad Company, according to Aaron Tauscher, chairman of the city’s Greenway Committee. .
Fowles said the city aims to complete the acquisition by late November or early December.
Tauscher estimates that it could be several years before a final design is available. An engineering company has yet to be named.
“If all goes as planned, we expect construction to be scheduled within the next few years. We intend to share more concrete details with community members as progress is made, and community input will be vitally important for the next stages of the project,” he said. declared in a press release sent by e-mail. “Reaching out to the needs, wants, and questions of city residents will help shape the design of the path, and we look forward to engaging more with residents in the near future.”
He also encouraged townspeople to check the town’s webpage for upcoming Greenway meetings, or to contact the committee with any questions, at [email protected]
Emily Thurlow can be contacted at [email protected]