Unistress has been growing its operations west alongside the Berkshire Mall Connector Road. To avoid the business, the trail is being redesigned to move east.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The extension of the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail to Crane Avenue needs to be redesigned to alleviate safety concerns while cutting through Unistress property.
The city has already spent a quarter of a million dollars designing the extension in preparation to receive $2.5 million in federal highway funds for the construction. Now, after a 25 percent design hearing, the state is asking for a redesign to circumvent the Unistress property.
"It was going through the middle of their property so there were concerns with truck traffic," Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said.
According to Parks and Open Space Manager Jim McGrath, the original design for the 1.5-mile extension started at the overflow parking lot near the mall and cut through the middle of Unistress land to connect to the jail road. It went along that road and again passed across a Unistress utility road to reconnect with the rail bed.
Now, the city is looking to move the alignment from that overflow parking lot to run next to Route 8 and then cut back to reconnect with the rail line.
Essentially, the previous plan circumvented the Unistress operations for the most part to the west and now will circumvent it to the east.
"As we got further looking into the design and understanding the impacts to the Unistress operations particularly, a design change was required," McGrath said.
Turocy said the original design was limited because of wetlands concerns surrounding for former rail bed, which is owned by the state. But since then, Unistress has somewhat moved its operations further in from Route 8, opening the window to bring the trail further east.
The decision to redesign came from the state Department of Transportation two weeks ago, after a joint meeting between city officials, the engineers Fuss & O'Neill, and Unistress.
"They need to look at some of the alignment revisions. It is primarily looking at the two ends of the trail," said Peter Frieri, of MassDOT District 1.
Turocy added that the city is also looking at the other end where the rail bed cuts through Miller Petroleum and John's Building Supply. There he hopes to determine the best ways to handle parking and a rest area.
The redesign, however, puts the city in a time crunch to complete the engineering as well as requiring additional money to fund the work.
Mayor Linda Tyer says she hasn't yet determined where the additional funding will come from for the changes but remains committed to the project. She said the city is currently in the process of updating its open space and recreation plan, and that will help determine the future.
"I like the alternate route because it is safer and a more enjoyable experience," Tyer said on Thursday.
Tyer said she has been a "champion" of bike paths since her days as a ward councilor. But in order to start developing spurs throughout the city, the bike trail has to get there first.
"We need to connect the mall to Coltsville. This is a really important segment for getting the rail trail into the city of Pittsfield," Tyer said. "The bike path is the kind of thing a millennial or the next generation would want to see in a place to live. I just wish it wasn't taking us so long."
She added that Unistress officials have been willing and supportive of the extension, despite any disruption it would cause to its operations, and for that she is grateful.
The work has been a long time coming. Back in 2012, city officials were making pitches to receive the construction money. But the funds were allocated to head north to extend the trail in Adams. The state Department of Transportation has now allocated the $2.5 million for construction through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program.
Frieri said the federal funds will be available on Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year, and the goal remains to get the extension out to bid by Sept. 30, 2018. The current estimate is $2,251,210.
Despite the needed redesign, city and state officials remain optimistic that the extension will happen, it is just a matter of getting to that point.
"At the end of the day we want to see this bike path extension and we want it to be safe," McGrath said.
The state and the federal government have been slowly extending the trail over the years. It currently runs from the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough to Lime Street in Adams. Money is earmarked in 2020 to bring it into North Adams — the city has committed to money to design that. The north end, the $4.7 million Mohawk Bike Trail through Williamstown to North Adams is set to start construction next year.
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