Town agrees to fund rail trail sidewalk design

By Anne O'Connor,

TOWNSEND/GROTON -- Supporters of a rail trail between Townsend and Groton got a boost from Townsend selectmen.

On Aug. 11, the board approved spending $27,000 to design and engineer a sidewalk from the Harbor Church to the lights on South Street.

Moving the Squannacook River Rail Trail off the right-of-way beside Harbor Pond for this 800- to 1,000-foot length takes it out of the backyards of some shallow properties, said Town Administrator Andy Sheehan. It will also allow trail users to cross the busy road at a traffic signal.

"Survey is required to ensure that the sidewalk is designed within the right of way of Route 119 and civil engineering is necessary to ensure proper grades, drainage, construction methods and materials, plans and specifications," Sheehan wrote in an email.

The money comes from a sum that was appropriated in 2005 to design and engineer a sidewalk along Route 119 between North Middlesex Regional High School and the center, he said.

After the money was appropriated, discussions with engineering firms revealed that the $100,000 was not enough to design the entire length, Sheehan said. Since then, the money has remained in the general fund.

During the meeting, the selectmen discussed the possibility of releasing some or all of the money to be used to help build the sidewalk in the harbor section of town. No decisions were made.

The matter will come under further discussion, Sheehan said. The repurposing of the funds would need to be approved at town meeting.

The study is good news for Squannacook Greenways, the nonprofit currently in the process of raising money to build the trail.

"We are very happy that the town of Townsend is moving ahead with the study for the Townsend Harbor sidewalk, because this is a key section of the Squannacook River Rail Trail," Bill Rideout, the treasurer of the group, wrote in an email. "We deeply appreciate the town's support with this essential connection."