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Lynnfield committees on opposite sides of rail trail funding

Signs supporting and opposing the Lynnfield-Wakefield Rail Trail displayed along Summer Street. (Thomas Grillo )

LYNNFIELD — The divide over whether to extend the controversial Wakefield Rail Trail through town was on full display this week.

The Board of Selectmen voted 2-0, with one member abstaining, to reject a plan to fund $348,000 in trail design spending. In contrast, the Finance Committee endorsed the measure by an 8-2 vote. 

The question of whether to support the expenditure will go before voters at a Special Town Meeting set for Thursday, Sept. 26 at the Lynnfield Middle School.  

Thanks to support from state Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading), Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and the Baker administration, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has allocated $10.3 million to fund construction of the rail trail’s extension.

But funding of $700,000 in design costs is on Wakefield and Lynnfield, which  are expected to split the cost. Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail have said they hoped to raise the cash to spare homeowners the expense. While the group raised $100,000 through a matching grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the amount was insufficient and voters are being asked to fund the rest. 

Last fall, the Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail said if they can’t secure full funding for the design, the cost to homeowners would be $71. They insist it’s a small price to pay to have a rail trail in town with construction paid for by the state. They argue it will boost property values and provide a safe place for runners, walkers, and cyclists of all ages.  

Selectmen Philip Crawford and Richard Dalton, who voted no, said there’s a chance a state Environmental Bond Bill on Beacon Hill could pick up Lynnfield’s share of the design costs next year and spare taxpayers the financial burden. 

“The voters have spoken and we support the trail,” said Crawford. “We are trying to do the most prudent thing in terms of funding the final design. Why pass the cost on to taxpayers if there’s a chance the state will fund it.”

But proponents say they may lose the $100,000 in matching funds if Lynnfield postpones securing the cash.

Efforts have been underway for nearly two decades to transform the former Newburyport branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad into the 4.4 mile Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail. 

The project would be built on 2.5 miles in Lynnfield and nearly two miles in Wakefield on land leased from the MBTA at no cost to the communities. 

A 12-foot-wide paved path would begin near the T’s Wakefield commuter rail station, pass two Wakefield schools, travel under Route I-95 into Lynnfield, behind the Lynnfield Middle School toward the Reedy Meadow Golf Course, pass Lynnfield High School to the Peabody border. 

Also included in the proposal is off-street parking in school lots, safety improvements at road and railroad crossings, signs and pavement markings, pedestrian and landscape enhancements, and screening from the trail for abutters.

But opponents say the money is better sent on schools. A trail, they say will cause parking and traffic problems as people come from everywhere to use it.

The Friends said moving forward with Wakefield on the final design will result in the project being construction ready. At that point, MassDOT can put the construction out to bid, they said.

Jones said a Town Meeting vote to reject design funding will not necessarily kill the plan.

“I’m not trying to put my thumb on the scale one way or the other on the Town Meeting vote,” he said. “Obviously, an affirmative vote from a community on any type of project are more welcome and more helpful.”  

Crighton declined comment on the upcoming Town Meeting vote.

“I will say from our end, we support the project, we got it in the bond bill and we will continue to advocate for the funding,” he said. 

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