Peddling a shared use pathway

Dec 18, 2023

A shared use path running alongside Minot Avenue could make it easier and safer for cyclists and pedestrians to travel in that area. The town has recently acquired funding from MassTrails for the path's design and from the state and federal governments for the its construction, funding that has brought the path closer to becoming a reality. 

While the path has been in the works for decades, the most recent effort to make it happen has hit a stumbling block as the Select Board voted a year ago to temporarily "pull the plug" on the project. 

At the time, members voiced concern about the price tag for the path, especially when the rest of the town's financial needs were taken into account. 

Since then, the town has secured grant funding from multiple sources for the different elements of the project. 

A grant from MassTrails, secured in October, paid for the design of the path and has allowed the project to move forward, said Ken Buckland, director of Planning and Community Development. 

The project itself has secured a mix of state and federal funding from the Transportation Improvement Program, said Brian Wallace, a consultant with JC Engineering working on the path's design. "I believe the most recent cost estimate was about $5.1 million on that. That cost would be covered by the state and by federal dollars … 80% fed, 20% state."

The town will pay for the design and the right-of-way acquisitions needed for the project, and is working on MassTrails funding for those elements of the project, Wallace added. 

The town will be responsible for the long-term maintenance of the path once it's constructed, and will pursue state funding for the necessary equipment, said Buckland. 

The shared use path will run along the south side of Minot Avenue, with one end placed just after the Route 6 bridge onto Main Street and the other placed at the intersection between Minot Avenue and Great Neck Road / Depot Street. 

The project will replace an existing six-foot-wide sidewalk with a path that's 10 feet wide in most places, though the path will narrow to eight feet in other places as required by its surroundings. It will have two lanes and will be suitable for bikes and pedestrians. 

Where possible, the path will be set back from the road and separated from it by stretches of greenery. The road will be moved slightly north in places to accommodate the extra room. 

"[The] objectives of this project can be broken down into long term objectives as well as short term," said Wallace. 

In the long term, the path will be one leg of the South Coast Bikeway, a 50-mile system of bike paths, multi-use paths and bike lanes running from Rhode Island to Cape Cod. Several segments of the path already exist in Wareham, Fall River, New Bedford and other communities, while other segments are in the works. 

"In the short term, we have the opportunity to improve safety and accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians who might be using that road," said Wallace. "It's a connection point between the Main Street area and the rest of East Wareham." 

A 1978 Regional Transportation Plan included it as a high priority project, said Jonathan Gray, a transportation planner with the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District. "This is a 45 plus year long project."

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing on the path's design, likely in the spring of 2024. Some work has to be done after that; Wallace said construction would commence in 2028, although there’s a chance it could begin sooner.