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CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS MAP
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The following descriptions of existing facilities in the Central Massachusetts region have been submitted to the bicycle facilities inventory.
Much of the Central Massachusetts region is relatively lightly populated. Even some major highways are lightly used and suitable for through bicycle travel. Bicycle clubs, notably the Seven Hills Wheelmen, regularly use the roads and highways for their scheduled rides. Worcester, on the other hand, is the second-largest city in New England. Additionally, Worcester is bisected by Interstate Route 290, a major geographic barrier for bicyclists.
There are several designated bicycle routes in the Central Massachusetts region:
Worcester on-road routes
The City of Worcester has had two designated signed bicycle routes on streets. These could be upgraded with new signage.
Route 146 Bikeway
Though plans for a bikeway as part of the Route 146 reconstruction in Worcester and Millbury are not complete, the project is funded.
Maine to Virginia touring route
A touring bicycle route designated by the Adventure Cycling Association as part of its Maine to Virginia route passes from north to south through the Central Massachusetts region, generally east of Worcester and on lightly-traveled rural roads. (See section on cross-state routes for more detail.)
The following proposals have been submitted to the bicycle facilities inventory
Grand Trunk-related proposals
Several linked proposals, if realized, would constitute a continuous bikeway, mostly off-road, across the southern part of the Central Massachusetts area. This bikeway would continue into the Pioneer Valley and Metropolitan Area Planning Council regions at either end. An advocacy group, the Grand Trunk Trailblazers, is coordinating support for these facilities.
Grand Trunk railbed
The Grand Trunk railbed was constructed around 1910 and stretches all the way across the southern edge of the Central Massachusetts region. Its purpose was to link existing railroads from Montréal with the port of Providence, which remained open through the winters. The main financial backer died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the project was abandoned. Tracks were never laid, and trestles were never constructed across rivers and valleys. Most of the railbed is now in private and fragmented ownership. While it may be feasible to construct a rail trail on some segments of the Grand Trunk railbed, other alternatives appear preferable for many segments. The following list of segments includes some on the Grand Trunk railbed and others which are not.
This consists mostly of a system of paths in Brimfield (in the Pioneer Valley region), with some extending into Sturbridge. The major purpose is to connect local and regional schools with residential neighborhoods.
Brimfield-Sturbridge link on Route 20
The suggested facility consists of bicycle lanes or wide shoulders on US Route 20. Route 20 is in the same corridor as parts of the Tawasqua Bikeway (above) but would be more direct for east-west through travel. The traffic volume of approximately 9000 vehicles per day on this part of Route 20 requires consistent shoulder width to accommodate bicyclists.
This would extend east to west through Sturbridge, mostly using the Grand Trunk railbed. It passes Old Sturbridge Village, an important point of interest.
Connection through Southbridge
The Town of Southbridge is currently planning a multi-use trail through its downtown area using a combination of former rail right of way and existing streets.
Quinebaug Valley Trail
This trail on a segment of abandoned Providence and Worcester railbed closely parallels the Grand Trunk railbed between Southbridge and Dudley, but will likely be purchased by the Massachusetts DEM following abandonment procedures by the railroad. Its development is therefore more feasible than that of the parallel segment of the Grand Trunk line. Approximately two miles of the proposed Quinebaug Trail are in Thompson, CT; the State of Connecticut supports its conversion into a rail trail.
Connection through Webster
The Grand Trunk railbed passes through Webster and connects to the proposed Quinebaug Valley Trail and Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT, see below) either side of Webster. However, in view of potential difficulties in establishing a continuous path on the railbed, the Grand Trunk Trailblazers have suggested an on-road route, partly in Connecticut, as a link across Webster. This would use rural roads south of Webster into Connecticut, to link with the proposed Southern New England Trunkline Trail.
SNETT (Southern New England Trunkline Trail)
Running between Blackstone, MA and Putnam, CT, this segment of abandoned railbed is presently in DEM ownership, unlike the parallel Grand Trunk segment. It already serves as a multi-use trail, and Massachusetts funding for trail improvement appears to be underway towards approval.
Other proposed rail trails
Several additional rail trails have been proposed. Not all have been clearly delineated on maps or represent active proposals.
Barre to Templeton
This railbed, in Massachusetts DEM ownership, is proposed for conversion to a bicycle trail. Some questions about wetland incursions remain. The corridor extends into Winchendon, in the Montachusett region, though not in public ownership.
Holden-Rutland Rail Trail
This follows the abandoned Central Massachusetts railbed from the north end of Holden across Rutland and to the east end of Oakham. Its connection or continuation at either end is unclear.
This railbed, abandoned in the 1950s, provides a direct north-south route. It crosses Route 395 in Oxford and the Massachusetts Turnpike in Auburn; no information was provided to the inventory project as to whether grade-separated crossings exist there. Ownership is fragmented. A flood control project and an active gravel pit operation have disrupted the continuity of the right of way.
Central Massachusetts Rail Trail
This project is largely in the Metropolitan Area Planning Council region. One proposal ends in Berlin, but may be extended further into Clinton, in the Montachusett region. The railbed being considered for this project is part of the same one described under the heading "The Holden-Rutland Rail Trail" (above).
Blackstone Valley to Worcester Corridor
Blackstone Valley Bikeway
This major project is being developed under Federal leadership by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission (BRVNHCC) in cooperation with MHD and DEM. A proposed bicycle facility incorporating on-road and path segments would extend from Blackstone to Millbury, connecting with a Rhode Island segment at one end and the Route 146 Bikeway (see below) at the other. The exact routing has not yet been determined.
Route 146 Bikeway
This is a funded project, though not yet constructed, extending from Millbury into Worcester, and is described above as an existing project.
Millbury Junction Trail
This rail spur would connect the Blackstone Valley corridor with the northeast corner of Millbury using an abandoned railbed. Freight service ended in the 1970s and the rails were later removed. This railbed appears to have strong potential for trail development.
City of Worcester/Town of Leicester/Regional Trails Working Group projects
Two multi-use trail proposals have been submitted by the City of Worcester/Town of Leicester/Regional Trails Working Group and are currently being considered for funding under the Transportation Enhancement Program. The first trail runs from northern Leicester into Worcester connecting with Tatnuck Square, Webster Square and Brosnihan Square (via Hope Avenue, Southbridge Street and McKeon Road). At Brosnihan Square, the trail would connect to the proposed Route 146 Bikeway and from this to the Blackstone River Bikeway. The second proposed trail runs north on Salisbury Street from Worcesters Union Station to Morgan Park, located on the shores of Indian Lake.
Several linked paths and on-road routes have been proposed for the Town of Leicester. One of these may eventually link to City of Worcester routes and to the Route 146 Bikeway.
A trail on a power line right of way has been proposed for Shrewsbury, as well as two others which incorporate on and off-road segments.
Highway and road improvements
Many commenters pointed out highway segments which are attractive for bicycling, and recommended a program of maintenance and improvements.
Routes 122, 122A and 62 and 68
These highways through the northern part of the Central Massachusetts region were described repeatedly as attractive through routes. Suggestions were received for maintenance and for upgrading, reflecting existing and anticipated traffic volume. Traffic is highest on Route 122 (10,350 vehicles per day at the Rutland-Oakham town line) and 122A (7,950 vehicles per day in Rutland east of Route 56). Traffic on Route 68 is moderate (4,500 vehicles per day in Rutland, but with wide shoulders) and very light on Route 62 (950 vehicles per day at the Hubbardston-Princeton town line). These figures are from the years 1990 and 1992. Traffic volume is expected to increase at 1 percent per year or less.
Route 30, Westborough and Grafton
This was described as the only reasonably attractive east-west through route in its corridor, but in need of improvement.
This highway closely parallels Interstate 84 from Sturbridge almost to the Connecticut border, where it is interrupted by Route 84. It therefore carries very little traffic. Its function as a through route has been taken over by Route 84. The connection to roads open to bicycling at the other side of the border apparently would have to be via a connecting path alongside Route 84.
This highway runs from Route 20 in Sturbridge to Route 9 in Spencer. It has been described as an attractive route for bicycling due to its wide shoulders. It provides access to Wells State Park. Encouraging bicycle use on Route 49 mostly requires the maintenance and improvement of routes to connect with it at its ends.
Wachusett Reservoir Loop
Routes 70, 140, 110 and 12 have been suggested as a designated bicycle route around Wachusett Reservoir.
One commenter pointed out a route on town roads extending from Auburn southwest through Charlton to Southbridge on roads generally south of Route 20 and east of Route 169. This appears to be a useful (if hilly) through route, and its utility will continue if future improvements accommodate bicycle travel.
See the section of this report on cross-state routes for more detail on the following routes:
The northern east-west cross-state route passes through Princeton, along the eastern side of the Wachusett State Park and then east on Route 62. An alternate routing follows Route 122 and Route 62 from the west and joins the main route in the center of Princeton.
The southern east-west route runs across the south end of the county from Sturbridge to Mendon roads. In the future, it might make use of many of the Grand Trunk-related proposals. A side trip to the north is offered, in order to access the scenic Purgatory Chasm in Uxbridge.
A north-south route from Dudley east to Uxbridge and then north to Berlin has already been surveyed and designated by the Adventure Cycling Association as part of its Maine to Virginia Trail. In the future, this route might incorporate a portion of the Blackstone Valley Bikeway and Grand Trunk proposals.
Priorities developed through the inventory project are:
1) City of Worcester /Town of Leicester/Regional Trails Working Group proposals and connecting projects. The connecting projects include the Route 146 Bikeway and the connecting Blackstone River Bikeway. As urban projects serving a large population, these have strong potential for bicycle transportation. Shrewsbury and Holden projects also form part of this priority if they connect to the other proposals.
2) Quinebaug Valley Trail, Southbridge proposal and Sturbridge Bikeway. Of all the Grand Trunk-related segments, these together appear to have the greatest transportation potential. They would pass a new Department of Defense facility (former American Optical plant) with hundreds of employees; would provide a crossing of Route 84, linking the two halves of Sturbridge; and would serve the Old Sturbridge Village site as well as local schools. They should be coordinated with a plan for bicycle access to the west through Brimfield. Both of these connections could be met economically with on-road bicycle routes including a program of maintenance and improvement.
3) Maintenance and improvement of highways to accommodate bicycle travel, particularly where they serve a growing population. Commenters have described many highways in the Central Massachusetts area as attractive for bicycling. In many cases they are and will remain for the foreseeable future the major arterial routes for bicyclists, as they are for motorists. Improvements include providing adequate width for lane sharing, and bicycle-sensitive intersection treatments.
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