PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If funds become available to get shovels in the ground on the Mohawk Bike Path project in Williamstown, the MPO says it will try to move construction up. Otherwise, the project won't be funded until 2019.
"I think '19 is very doable, '18 is quite possibly doable but not for sure," said Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Nathaniel Karns. "But it is really is the statewide funding source, it is out of targets."
The project was eyed for construction in the federal 2017 fiscal year but the design hadn't progressed enough. It was pushed back, but there were no available funds for 2018. The design is now expected to hit the 25 percent completion milestone this month.
Williamstown representatives on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Transportation Advisory Committee advocated for the funding because the design has progressed faster than expected. But, the organizations didn't have the state and federal resources available.
When the five-year plan went to public comment, Williamstown and North Adams supporters rallied to write letters in support. A total of 25 supporters of the project, including the Berkshire Bike Path Council, the North Adams Partnership, state Sen. Adam Hinds, representatives from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and North Adams City Councilors Nancy Bullet and Joshua Moran.
Those support letters said the trail will bring recreational and economic benefits and safer travel, and is important for young professionals, connections with nature, and supporting tourism.
Williamstown representative Andy Hogeland told the MPO on Tuesday that if the project can't be funded in 2018, he'd want the organization to commit to getting shovels in the ground in early 2019.
"If it drifts further into '19, then you lose a construction season," Hogeland said.
He called for "reasonable efforts" to move it up. The MPO agreed with the supporters and will send a message to the designers to be ready for FY18 just in case funding is freed up.
However, word of that effort got out and a group of Chenaille Terrace residents wrote a joint letter opposing the project, saying there were issues with safety and vandalism, and that they had hopes of an alternative alignment.
Transportation Planner Clete Kus said the section going to construction won't approach Chenaille Terrace, which is North Adams. However, there are plans in Phase 2 of the project for the path to cross near the road on its way to the Harriman & West Airport, so the MPO will pass along those concerns when consideration of future expansions come before it.
"The comments related to Chenaille Terrace, the current Phase 1 of that project terminates in advance of Chenaille Terrace," Kus said. "We acknowledge their comments but technically it does not impact this project."
Karns said the North Adams piece is "still in the planning stage" and he already knows of another neighborhood that might raise objections. He said there are possibilities of mitigating the concerns of the neighbors when it gets to that point.
"This particular project does not impact them but the comments are duly noted for future expansion projects," Karns said.
The project had been moved back as far as 2020 and state Department of Transportation officials said as long as the designs were moving rapidly, the Williamstown leg could be brought forward.
Meanwhile, on the other side of North Adams, Peter Frieri of the state Department of Transportation's District 1 said Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. is currently working on the design of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail expansion to Hodges Cross Road. A little over a week ago, the state cut the ribbon on a 1.2-mile expansion in Adams from Hoosac Street to Lime Street.
On the south side of the rail trail, the city of Pittsfield has been plugging away at the required redesign of the extension to Crane Avenue. State transportation officials asked for an alteration of the original plans to more carefully circumvent Unistress' operations.
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