PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Construction of the Williamstown-North Adams bike trail has been pushed back one year, again.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization agreed to push the project into the fiscal 2020. The trail construction had been scheduled for fiscal 2017 and then was pushed into the next fiscal cycle each following year.
According to Steve Woelfel of the state Department of Transportation, the project was two separate pieces — the Williamstown side and the North Adams side. A contractor was hired to do the engineering and design work for each portion. The Williamstown portion was eyed to be ready for fiscal 2019 and the mile-long North Adams piece for 2020.
Woelfle said the decision was made to hold off bidding the Williamstown project until the North Adams section is ready so there would be only one contractor and one contract on the project.
"In terms of having a cohesive project with one contractor, it makes sense to bundle it," he said.
Mark Moore from MassDOT said the project had been pushed back in the past because the design and permitting had seen delays. He said even now "2019 isn't even an absolute guarantee for Williamstown."
Moore said the North Adams design has cleared the 25 percent review stage and MassDOT is awaiting the city's consultant to provide the 75 percent design. MassDOT is also awaiting an updated design schedule to identify when it will be completed.
"It is expected to be early in fiscal year '20," Moore said.
Part of the challenge in North Adams was opposition from residents in the Chenaille Terrace neighborhood. Many of the homeowners there were concerned about the impacts of such a trail being close to their homes. In 2017, the MPO urged the designers to "give due consideration to addressing those concerns" as they prepare the final design.
The Williamstown section will run east from Simonds Road parallel to the Hoosic River and terminate from the Spruces on Route 2 near the town line. The North Adams section, greatly reduced from initial proposals several years ago, will pick up on the south side of Route 2, run south through land donated to the city by the former owner of the Spruces, then east on airport property to end near the airport's new terminal where there will be parking, restrooms and a cafe.
The delay has frustrated advocates of the project. Williamstown MPO representative Andy Hogeland was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting but wrote a letter to the MPO calling for action. He wants specifics why the project is not being done in 2019, what steps were taken to try to keep to the schedule, and what steps will be taken to ensure there are no further delays.
MassDOT District 1 officials said they would put together a more detailed report to respond to Hogeland's requests.
Hogerland is asking that the MPO request "an updated schedule that commits to an advertising date by no later than the end of December 2019 so the project can commence construction in the spring 2020 construction season."
"In early 2017 the draft TIP for 2018-2022 went out for public comment and included DOPT's proposed slippage for this project to FY2019. As the MPO staff noted at the time, the Berkshire MPO had never received as many public comments on a draft TIP as were received against that proposed delay. About 25 commenters opposed the delay, highlighting the support for this project and for keeping it on schedule," Hogeland wrote.
"The MPO voted and approved a response which concurred with the public comments that the project be not delayed further, and be kept in the TIP for FY2018 or, if that was not feasible, as early as possible in 2019."
The comments issued then had both a number of supports in favor of the project as well as opposition from the Chenaille Terrace residents.
The project is now scheduled to be put to bid for construction at the same time the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail is expected to be extending into Pittsfield — providing a large amount of additional bike trail. An eventual connection between the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail and the Mohawk Bike Path is still years off. The next northern expansions of the Ashuwilticook is eyed for 2022, which will bring it to Hodges Cross Road in North Adams.
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Barbara Malkas is honored with the MASS President's Award.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas has been recognized by her peers for her professional accomplishment and her advocacy for students.
Malkas was presented with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents' 2019 President's Award at the association's May conference.
A member of the MASS executive committee, she has been an educator for more than 32 years in the roles of science teacher, school administrator, district administrator, deputy superintendent, and superintendent. She has been superintendent of the North Adams Public Schools for three years and of the Webster Public Schools for the previous four years.
She was selected for the award because in each of her districts and roles, she has strived to improve the quality of education for all students, particularly those representing underserved populations. As a MASS committee member, she consistently advocates for the unique needs of students in Western Massachusetts. She also served as the Berkshire County representative to the Superintendents Advisory Council, often reminding the commissioner in a clear and professional manner of the unique conditions in Berkshire County.
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