Funding for the Prospect Street tunnel along the Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT) has been approved this week and the project will go out to bid in the fall. A total of $1.3 million, over two fiscal years, will be funded from the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Trails Capitol Project.
“The Southern New England Trunkline Trail serves as an important corridor that offers exceptional outdoor recreational opportunities while also connecting communities together throughout the region,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “The Baker-Polito Administration is proud to provide essential funding for the rail trail’s Prospect Street tunnel project, which will be managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and appreciates the dedication and hard work of the Town of Franklin’s legislative delegation.”
Franklin’s legislative delegation has been actively working on this funding since 2014 in order to expand the connectivity of this trail and connect it to the rest of the SNETT. The SNETT, one of the longest trails in Massachusetts, travels 22 miles from Grove Street in Franklin all the way to the Douglas State Forest. The trail is popular to bicyclists, cross-country skiers, equestrians, and hikers and connects with other trail lines, reaching as far as Worcester, MA, Providence, RI and Palmer, MA.
“Well-maintained, accessible recreational trails have a significant positive impact on quality of life across the state,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This funding will make significant improvements to the connectivity and accessibility of SNETT, encouraging people to get outdoors, be active and connect with the region.”
“As an avid bike rider, this project has always been near and dear to my heart,” said Rep. Jeff Roy (D-Franklin). “I have been advocating for the SNETT because it not offers great recreational potential as a multi-use trail and brings communities together. It also gives life to abandoned railways and provides communities a way to offer open space to its residents. I am thrilled to see that the Governor and DCR are supporting this project and look forward to seeing more residents on the trail.”
An impediment at Prospect Street emphasizes the need for a tunnel. At that point one mile into the trail there is steep terrain causing users to leave the trail, trespass on private property, and traverse a steep incline to get to the other side. Many years ago, the old railroad tracks right-of-way ran under a bridge at Prospect Street. But the bridge was eliminated, and the railroad right-of-way was filled in, creating this major obstacle.
In 2013, then DCR Commissioner Jack Murray visited the site with members of the Legislature, engineers, Franklin town officials, rail trail committee members, and conservationists to discuss options. And in 2016, Matthew Beaton, the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, rode the trail with Rep. Roy (D-Franklin), local officials, and committee members to see firsthand whether a tunnel fit in with the Governor’s priorities.
Rep. Mike Soter (D-Bellingham) stated, “I’m thrilled to see this project finally move towards reality. This has been in the works for years now and I cannot express enough how happy I am to see this project through as the State Representative of the 8th Worcester District. The Southern New England Trunkline Trail is an outstanding project that promotes environmental stewardship and healthy living for the residents of Bellingham and the surrounding communities.”
Senator Becca Rausch (D- Needham) said, “One of the best parts of our pocket of the Commonwealth is its natural beauty. This project not only improves lives in our area by fixing a problem spot for accessibility, but also serves as a draw to others to come visit our region. I’m so proud to support the tremendous work of my colleagues at the state and local levels who have brought this trail to reality.”
“I want to thank our state legislative delegation and the Franklin-Bellingham Rail Trail Committee for all of their tireless work to get these resources to provide better access to the SNETT trail,” said Franklin Town Administrator Jamie Hellen. “On behalf of our entire staff and the Franklin DPW, we have been honored to work on this exciting project. There is no question this is a very big deal and we are committed to continuing to work on expansion of the SNETT in the future.”
“The Franklin & Bellingham Rail Trail Committee (FBRTC) is proud to be the community advocate for the SNETT and the funding of the Prospect Street tunnel project,” said Marc Kaplan, FBRTC president. “The tunnel project solves a major impasse on the SNETT and creates a seamless connection between the towns of Franklin and Bellingham. The completed project helps realize our mission of making a universally accessible trail for all ages and abilities and will improve the quality of life for residents. We would like to thank Representatives Roy and Soter and Senators Spilka and Rausch, as well as Franklin and Bellingham Town administrators for their leadership to secure funding for this important project, and the DCR for their tireless work and direct assistance in developing the SNETT rail trail.”
The project will go out to bid in November 2019 and the project should be complete by the summer of 2020.