The Upper Charles Trail Committee is at a crossroads, members acknowledged in a meeting Wednesday, and it’s not clear how it can find a path forward.
Town Engineer Dave Daltorio dropped a bombshell midway through the meeting when he said the group’s favored proposal to have much of the Upper Charles Trail run along Hayden Rowe Street/Route 85 might require a complete overhaul of the street layout in order to avoid infringing on private property.
“It’s a larger project than just building a shared-use path on one side of Hayden Rowe,” Daltorio said. “It would be a roadway kind of realignment reconstruction project. … You couldn’t build it right now, based on the current alignment of Hayden Rowe, without impacting private property. But if you realigned Hayden Rowe within the existing right of way, you could probably do it within a 49 1/2-foot right of way. Obviously, there’s other work that would be associated with that, there’s utility work, there’s probably drainage work — you’re reconstructing an entire roadway.”
Added Daltorio: “It would be a multimillion dollar project to realign Hayden Rowe, but you could fit it in there.”
UCTC Chair Jane Moran has repeatedly pushed back against a proposal from Peter LaGoy of the Hopkinton Trails Club to locate the trail farther to the west, in wooded area behind Charlesview Estates, because that would require accessing private land.
However, Daltorio’s revelation sparked a sometimes-heated discussion between committee members, who have been tasked with presenting multiple options to the Select Board.
“If you were doing a case of presenting options for an executive board to decide, this [Hayden Rowe option] just dropped down to third, if you were going to keep it in the pool at all,” UCTC Member Barry Rosenbloom said. “Because another factor here is time — how long. It not only sounds like a severe project, but something that’s years down the road. If you had a couple of other options and time was shrunk, or made more current, that would be a solid attribute to consider for options 1 and 2. … You could keep this proposal conceptual on the table as No. 3 and just move on and work on one or two others that get down to Milford. I don’t want to get hung up on one route, I want to get it done.”
Moran insisted there were no other workable options.
“We’ve exhausted the west side approach, and the east,” she said. “What’s left? We’re talking about [Route] 85 because I don’t think that there’s anything left. If you can come up with something, let me know.”
Chimed in UCTC Member Ken Parker: “I thought that [the western route] was still on the table. We had encountered roadblocks there, but just to take a perspective here, if we had focused on going down Hayden Rowe in the first place we would have hit roadblocks there, and if we used those roadblocks as an excuse to decide permanently that that was an unviable option, then we would have been forced to go west of Charlesview if we hadn’t considered that as carefully.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me because we know there are roadblocks in every place, and we have an estimate for the cost of going down Hayden Rowe. We have not such a good estimate now for the cost of going west of Charlesview. … A lot of things have changed, and I just don’t think that the initial roadblocks for the western route are good enough to say that that’s not a viable option given what Dave just went through with regards to how difficult it might be to build a multi-use path down Hayden Rowe.”
Member Eric Sonnett suggested the committee take time to digest the new information.
“Give us time to think,” he told Moran. “I don’t think we can do it tonight. I think we have to think about everything that was said and do it at our next meeting.”
Moran, however, pressed forward, saying: “If you don’t want to go down 85, what do you want to do, folks? Do you just want to throw up your hands and give it up, after all of this work, or do you want to pursue it and do some more hard work and figure out how we’re going to get there from here?”
Parker suggested going to the Select Board and asking how to proceed.
“I think we need guidance from them as to what choices they might want to have us decide between,” he said. “I think the Select Board is better suited than we are for deciding whether we should continue looking at the Charlesview route vs. down Hayden Rowe, and also the UCTC route that goes down College Street vs. the flyover bridge.”
Moran claimed that strategy would make it political.
Responded Parker: “I totally reject that logic.”
LaGoy, who also serves as chair of the town’s Trails Coordination and Management Committee (TCMC), said he still feels there is a viable alternative around Charlesview.
“To Dave’s point, I don’t think there’s anyway you can get here without some easements,” he said. “And that’s not insurmountable.”
He noted that easements for Charlesview would be for wooded property, as opposed to front yards on Hayden Rowe.
Shortly thereafter, Sonnett (a Charlesview resident) lashed out at Parker, who is a member of the TCMC, which was created in 2019 to focus on town trails other than the Upper Charles Trail. Sonnett asked what the TCMC has done “other than worry about the Upper Charles.”
After explaining some of the TCMC’s responsibilities, Parker said the TCMC has indeed discussed the Upper Charles Trail.
“The UCTC thing has been troublesome for us,” he acknowledged. “But the reason we care about that is it’s such a huge amount of town resources going into that. … But mostly the TCMC has been focused on trails other than the UCTC.”
After further badgering from Sonnett — while the chair remained silent — Parker said Sonnett’s behavior was “out of order completely, in my opinion.”
Member Bob Snyder concurred that Sonnett’s comments were “not relevant.” “We’re going down the wrong pathway here by pursuing this any further,” he said.
When Moran finally spoke, she suggested that she supported Sonnett’s opinion, although acknowledging TCMC has done a lot of work supporting other trails in town.
“I think that what Eric is also feeling is it’s too bad that another trails group that is supposed to be supporting all trails throughout town has found it in their heart to go against us, and that’s just too bad,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting, the committee discussed the Trails Club proposal to construct a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Route 85 at the Milford border.
Daltorio discussed what a bridge construction might entail, including the purchase of private property off Route 85 to facilitate the plan.
‘You could fit just about anything out there, it’s just a matter of land acquisition,” Daltorio said. “You’d just have to take more land or get more easement space.”
Daltorio said it’s too early to come up with an accurate cost estimate, but it would be substantial. He acknowledged that the town might be able to acquire a grant to cover the cost of constructing the bridge, but it would not include land acquisition and some other associated costs.
“Everybody knows, it costs a lot of money to do something like this,” he said. “And depending on where the funds come from would determine what design standards you’d need to meet. If it comes from the state or federal, [Massachusetts Department of Transportation] bridge design standards are going to have to be met. As we all know, that would drastically increase a project [than] if just the town paid for it and it was just going to be designed for pedestrian, bikes crossing. It’s going to meet some public safety recommendations.”
Parker countered that the cost of the bridge should be compared to the alternative plan.
“The bridge alternative didn’t seem terribly attractive back when we didn’t have a cost estimate for the other alternatives, but now we do,” he said. “So we’ve got to weigh the costs that are in that most recent plan to the cost of the segment starting from Granite Street all the way to the Milford parking lot. And I think the bridge turned out to be — my thinking is it’s going to be less expensive than that. So, yeah, it sounded like a lot of money, but is it a lot of money compared to the alternative?”
LaGoy supported Parker’s assessment, stating: “The details on the ground haven’t been done on either side to a full degree, but at this point — yes, we need some easements on that west side — but, boy, it certainly looks like it’s at least in the range and in all likelihood cheaper than the other option.”