Bike Path From Belmont To Alewife Is Under Repair
Paving and widening of trail beginning on Brighton Ave. part of planned 104-mile bike path.
Earlier this month, bright orange signs alerted passersby that the crushed-stone path from Brighton Street to Alewife Station, adjacent to the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line, was closed for reconstruction.
For decades, bicyclists, walkers and joggers have taken the mile-long dirt path from Belmont's eastern edge into Cambridge and the nearby MBTA Red line station.
And commuters who would rather walk or bike than drive or bus to the Alewife transit stop had the added benefit of a wildlife sanctuary nearby.
In June, snapping turtles the size of serving plates lay eggs along the path, in a ritual perhaps eons older than the commuter trains, whose tracks they risk crossing. Coyotes, foxes, skunk and possum have also been spied on the move, often at dusk.
The past two years, a white-tailed doe has summered in the sanctuary. This year she arrived with two fauns. Birds, from hawks to finches to herons, perch on the many trees, wade in streams, or take flight. Wild nature so close to roads and residences makes the area special.
So it was with a bit of trepidation when the path's daily and causal users were prevented from traveling on their favorite corridor.
But the closure is to allow the trail to be modernized and improved as part of a regional bike trail that one-day could stretch nearly the entire state.
Improving the way
The official title of the project to pave and widen the path is the Belmont Extension of the Minuteman Bikeway, a segment of the Mass Central Rail Trail (MCRT). This pathway will one day extend from Boston to Northampton, a total of 104 miles.
The goal is to establish paths from Belmont Center via Brighton Street and to Alewife abutting the commuter rail lines and then through Cambridge, Somerville and into downtown Boston, a safe and nearly direct bike path for commuting and recreation.
Nor is the construction a spur of the moment decision. As early as 2002, the Belmont Citizens Forum and the Friends of the Belmont Community Path have advocated constructing this segment of bike path.
John Dieckmann, vice president of the Forum's eight-person Board of Directors, gives credit to local leaders.
"Will Brownsberger helped get the project to the construction phase," Dieckmann says, "and Angelo Firenze, as well as the late Walter McLaughlin, helped obtain necessary easements."
Belmont Patch discussed the project with Dieckmann.
Patch: How is the Alewife to Brighton Street path project funded?
Dieckmann: Funding is 90 percent from Federal Highway Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), 10 percent the state. The total cost for the project, including Alewife to Davis Square, as well as Alewife to Brighton Street, is $3.9 million, of which perhaps 40 percent, or $1.5 million, is for Alewife to Brighton Street.
Q. What are the dimensions of the path?
A. The porous asphalt path will be 10 feet wide. The new bridge over Alewife Brook will be wider, about 16 feet.
Q. What will it look like when complete?
A. Similar to the Minuteman Bike Path from Arlington to Bedford. The bridge over Alewife Brook will also serve as a much-improved gateway to the Reservation. For safety, at Brighton Street, the present fence will be replaced with a 600-foot long, 6-foot high steel picket fence.
Q. Is the MWRA's Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) program affecting the schedule for the bike path?
A. Unfortunately, the CSO project at Alewife has to be finished first. In the interim, the path will be completed from Brighton Street to the end of Cambridge Park Drive, providing a temporary connection to Alewife, by the end of November.
Q. Any plans after this path is finished?
A. Yes, to continue the path to Belmont center, for which we've collected over 1,000 signatures. Then join the path to the MCRT 26 mile stretch, with a proposed lease from the MBTA, from Waltham to Berlin.
The Friends group will also help maintain the Brighton Street path once completed; picking up litter, mowing the shoulders and cutting back brush, especially the invasive, non-native species threatening local plants and flowers.