LYNNFIELD — In what’s been called the most contentious issue in a generation, residents backed the Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail by a huge margin Thursday night.
After more than an hour of debate, voters approved $348,000 for design costs by a 61 to 39 percent margin, or 585 to 380.
The money will be combined with Wakefield’s share to pay for design costs for the trail.
Each side made their case at a standing room only crowd in the Lynnfield Middle School.
Trail supporter Patrick Curley made the motion for voters to approve the expenditure of what amounted to $3.48 per household. He asked voters to make the trail a reality.
“The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is looking to see we are vested in this project,” he said. “The state is prepared to pay the entire cost of the $10 project. A no vote means another generation will go without one.”
But Patricia Campbell spoke for opponents. She urged voters to say no.
“We should not raid $348,000 in reseserves,” she said. “It’s there to be used for extraoridnary or unforseen circumstances. We may have to use it for an October storm or for flooding. The rail trail does not rise to the level of emergency.”
But voters disagreed.
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.
Prior to the debate, Town Moderator Joseph Markey tried to bring levity to what has been a contentious debate.
To test the electronic voting system, a faux question was put to test: Will the New England Patriots win the 2020 Super Bowl? Pats fans won the night by a 523 to 185 vote margin.
“Go Pats,” someone said.
Markey also admonished voters not to take home their electronic voting devices.
“You can’t use it to open your garage or change the channel on your TV,” he said.