COCHITUATE RAIL TRAIL
North-Central Section
(MassPike ROW Sell-off, w/proposed Easement)
visits since 010713; last updated 061116

The Cochituate Rail Trail is a proposed 4-mile recreation and transportation corridor which will extend from Natick Center to the village of Saxonville in Framingham. It will provide walkers, joggers, cyclists, and many others with safe and pleasant access to the swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking and trails of Cochituate State Park as well as to many businesses and offices in Natick and Framingham. There will eventually be a side trail west to the tremendously popular Natick Mall, General Cinema, and Shopper's World area. Another spur heads east into Wayland. Since the CRT will connect to the Natick commuter rail station, the potential exists for a substantial number of people to use the trail for commuting to work. It will be a spectacular new regional resource for transportation, recreation and personal and environmental health.

Map of Cochituate Rail Trail

A key feature of the CRT is that it will be much more than just a bike path or a sidewalk. Like most of the 1,500 rail trails in the USA, it will be a greenway - a linear park where people can relax and enjoy the great outdoors. For most of its 4-mile length, the trail corridor will be 60 to 80 feet wide. This provides enough room for a trail with trees or landscaping on each side, a lovely, continuous bio-corridor for people and for wildlife.

The north-central section of the CRT is currently owned by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. It extends from Route 30, near Cochituate State Park, northwest to the Turnpike in Framingham near Turnpike Exit 13. Once part of the historic Saxonville Branch Railroad Line, this abandoned railroad corridor is about 1/2-mile long and 65 to 80 feet wide.

MassPike bought the land from Conrail in 1990 for $100,000. The rails and ties were removed at that time, and the roadbed became overgrown with brush and small trees. In 2001 and 2002, volunteers re-opened the trail, but await permission to complete the work and for regular public access. Some encroachment has occurred, but the potential still exists for the creation of an outstanding linear park right at the heart of the heavily-developed Speen Street area of Framingham.
Location Map of the MassPike property

Unfortunately, MassPike intends to sell this entire transportation right-of-way to abutters. Before doing so, it proposes to create an easement for the Cochituate Rail Trail (and for its own future needs, to maintain the underside of the MassPike overpasses). But an easement is a weaker guarantee than public ownership, and this easement is a narrow one:
MassPike's Easement Map (March 2003) - The ROW is displayed in green, with the proposed easement in darker green, in two sections, from southeast in upper right, to northwest in lower left.

For most of MassPike's half-mile length of this ROW, it would shrink the 65-to-80-foot-wide, straight corridor down to a narrow easement: 32 feet wide close-by Route 30, then 24 feet wide for all the rest except for a final 0.1 mile that runs through "unbuildable" wetland. As the cleared trail will be 18 feet in width (in each direction, a six-foot-wide path plus a three-foot safety run-off area), that would leave a narrow seven feet, and then only three feet, on each side for the screening. Not enough for the thickly-wooded "corridor of green" that typifies this rail trail, hardly enough for small bushes and an occasional bench. The abutters might keep trees, or over the years replace them with parking lots, leaving an alleyway instead of a well-treed greenway.  And even currently-unbuildable sections would be sold off to abutting companies, so future owners and lawyers can seek variances from future town boards over the decades and centuries to come. To increase its potential profit, MassPike has added an occasional bend to the easement - thereby reducing sight lines and increasing the chance of collisions between cyclists and other users.

This corridor may again be needed for railroad transportation in some distant year, but there will be a far earlier transportation use: multi-modal bicycle and pedestrian connectivity to commuter rail in Natick, with no related traffic, fumes or parking problems. As this use grows, dual paths will become desirable: one for high speed, another for strollers. Examples of this dual-path approach already are popular and successful in nearby Maine. The wider corridor will permit this option while retaining our "tunnel of green."

Do other Massachusetts agencies also sell off desirable linear parks in this manner? In a word, no. Normal State agencies are required to dispose of surplus land through a formal process that would preserve this land under the Mass. Dept. of Environental Management or the Town of Framingham. Even that other semi-autonomous creation of Mass. government, the Mass. Bay Transit Authority, has no intent of selling off its portion of the CRT ROW, and is seeks no money for any transfer of rights. MassPike stands alone in this desire to sell off our public open space, or to charge the public yet again to retain its ownership.

Proponents of the Cochituate Rail Trail are asking for a better solution, one that will make the community proud one hundred years from now. They are asking the State to take steps to preserve the MassPike property. It is essential that we look ahead and protect what is sure to become one of the most popular multi-use trails in the country.

Supporters of the CRT are asking the MassPike to transfer the entire property to the DEM and/or to the Town of Framingham. This will provide enough room to create a multi-use trail with trees or landscaping on each side - a wonderful "tunnel of green" slicing through one of the most heavily developed areas in the State.  See some of the many supporter letters, below.

Although it often operates independently of state government, MassPike is still a public entity that exists to serve the people of the Commonwealth. Transferring public property to the private sector should only be considered after all potential public uses have been explored. In this case, the benefits to the public of retaining the entire 65-to-80-foot-wide corridor for the creation of an outstanding linear park and bicycle/pedestrian facility are far more significant that any modest revenues to be generated by selling this under-four-acre property.

Most state agencies have to go through a lengthy review process before disposing of surplus land. MassPike should be subject to the same scrutiny.

To its credit, the MBTA has recently adopted a policy for transferring surplus property to communities for use as trails and greenways. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority should have a similar policy.

With Massachusetts losing 44 acres of land to development each day, the last thing MassPike should be doing is selling off this precious open space for more parking lots.

How can you help?

1. Please write to Senator David Magnani of Framingham and Natick (Room 323, State House, Boston MA 02133) and Commissioner Peter Webber, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Management (251 Causeway St., Suite 600, Boston, MA, 02114).  Tell them that instead of selling off precious open space, MassPike should transfer all of its surplus property on the Cochituate Rail Trail to the DEM or to the Town of Framingham for use as a 60-80-foot-wide linear park like the rest of the rail trail, not just an narrow 18-foot easement. Please send a copy of your letter to Dick Miller at 61 Lake Shore Road, Natick MA 01760 or to <TheMillers@millermicro.com>.

If you would like to send a copy to your own legislators, find them here:
http://www.state.ma.us/legis/citytown.htm

2. Print out a one-page version of this appeal and pass it on:
http://www.millermicro.com/CRT-MassPikeAppealLetter.doc

3. Have your organization add its name to the growing list of supporters of this action and the Cochituate Rail Trail. Contact us at 508/653-6136 (9am-9pm) or TheMillers@millermicro.com.

We thank the following organizations and legislators for their support letters:
Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (on the Minuteman Bikeway)
Bay Circuit Alliance
Bedford Bicycle Advisory Committee (on the Minuteman Bikeway)
Belmont Bikeway Planning Committee (extending Minuteman Bikeway as similar linear-park trail)
Bicycles Belong Coalition
Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee
East Coast Greenway Alliance
Framingham Board of Selectmen (Sept. 21, 2001)
Framingham Board of Selectmen (August 12, 2002)
Friends of the Community Path (extending Minuteman Bikeway to Charles River Path)
Holliston Trails Committee (creating the Upper Charles Trail in Holliston)
Landry's Bicycles
Lexington Bicycle Advisory Committee (on the Minuteman Bikeway)
Mass. Dept. of Environmental Management
Mass. Representative David Linsky
Mass. Representative Anne Paulsen (August 6, 2001)
Mass. Representative Anne Paulsen (March 13, 2003)
Mass. Representative Susan Pope
Mass. Senator Susan Fargo
Mass. Senator Cheryl Jacques (June 7, 2001)
Mass. Senator Cheryl Jacques (March 12, 2003)
Mass. Senator David Magnani
Mass. Senator Pam Resor
Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group
Massachusetts Trails and Greenways Network, on behalf of:
   Appalachian Mountain Club
   Conservation Law Foundation
   East Coast Greenway Alliance
   Governor's Committee on Physical Fitness and Sports
   Massachusetts Audubon Society
   Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
   Norwottuck Network
   Rails to Trails Conservancy
   Tri-Community Bikeway
   Trust for Public Land
   Walk Boston
Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Natick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Natick Center Associates, Inc.
Natick Conservation Commission
Natick Planning Board
Natick Board of Selectmen
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, New England Office
Sierra Club, Massachusetts Chapter
Somerville Bicycle Committee (extending Minuteman Bikeway to Charles River Path)
Sudbury Valley Trustees
Three Seasons Ski Club
Trust for Public Land
Watertown Bicycle Committee (extending Minuteman Bikeway as similar linear-park trail)
Wayland Board of Selectmen

And, an information packet cover letter for the above, to the Massachusetts Turnpike Advisory Board.  At MTAB's November 7th, 2001 meeting it disagreed with the MassPike staff's continuing recommendation to sell the corridor to private parties now; MTAB's November 26th, 2001 comment letter recommends that MassPike grant the narrow easement to the Town of Framingham now, and that no sale of the wider corridor be considered at this time. This is a very important success along the way!

Many of the above support letters are available online; just click on an underlined name.


Detail maps from prior proposals:

Originally, MassPike proposed a 14-foot easement, and later modified that to an 18-foot one with major loops and zigzags. Although we still seek preservation of this open space, we recognize the partial improvements to date. The following detail maps show the MassPike property with its 1999-proposed 18-foot-wide trail easement. Handwritten map comments are by John Brennan, and this section of our text was written before and during 2002.

Route 30 northwest to 160 Speen St.
The plan is to squeeze the trail in between a gas station and the tall, cinderblock wall of a cement-mixing facility. The trail will then be diverted around a parking lot.

160 Speen Street northwest to Exit 13 ramp
The plan is to divert the trail around another new parking lot.

Exit 13 ramp northwest to 150 Speen Street
A proposal exists to build a new office building on the MassPike property and have the trail loop around it. In addition, the trail will be squeezed in between the new building and the Turnpike exit ramp.

These maps are suitable for printing to 8-1/2"x11" paper, in Landscape mode.

Note: The above maps were created in 1999. We have continuously requested a more current map from MassPike; we finally received one in April 2003 and posted it as soon as possible.

In July 2002, Bill Tuttle of MassPike informally proposed his own easement improvements over that 1999 plan:

  1. MassPike is committed to at least the 18-foot easement. This commitment is not threatened by our efforts to secure the entire property for the trail.
  2. Starting at Route 30, the first 300 feet of trail would be 32 feet wide instead of just the 18 feet of cleared width. The great majority of this (now 65-to-80-feet-wide) ROW, up to the wetland area beyond 150 Speen Street, would be 24 feet wide.
  3. The big-concrete-blocks wall near Route 30 has already been moved partway back and lowered, and initial regrading has largely corrected major fill and drainage problems there.
  4. The proposal to build a new office building at 150 Speen Street and to loop the trail around it will not be considered. Nor will a similar proposal to divert the trail around TJX and its parking lot.
  5. The sharp turns between Route 30 and the Exit 13 ramp will be eliminated; generally, the trail will stay straight, down within the existing railroad cut.
  6. Instead of selling off the parcels to abutting companies, MassPike intends to auction them off at some later time. (This was planned for September or October of 2001, but instead the Mass Turnpike Advisory Board said to delay that and to arrange interim access by Framingham.)
While these are all welcome improvements over the original plan, our goal of preserving the entire MassPike property for use by the Cochituate Rail Trail -- and the thrust of your many good supporting letters -- remains unchanged. This trail has the potential to become one of the most popular recreation/transportation facilities in the country. The idea of shrinking this section of the trail down from a 70-foot-wide greenway to an 18-foot-wide alleyway in order to create a few more parking lots was outrageous. Three feet of "greenway" on each side is not significantly better.

The Framingham Cochituate Rail Trail Committee has recommended that MassPike secure the wide greenway. To that end, the Framingham Selectmen have sent an August 12th, 2002 letter to MassPike.


This page is available online at http://www.millermicro.com/crt-masspike1.html

For general information about the Cochituate Rail Trail, see http://www.millermicro.com/crt.html

For more information about the benefits of rail trails and greenways, see these web pages from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy:
http://railtrail.org/whatwedo/railtrailinfo/benefits.html

See Mass. DEM's 2002 report of its "vision statement" (with the AMC, National Parks Service and many local groups), entitled, "Commonwealth Connections: A Greenway Vision for Massachusetts":
http://www.mass.gov/dcr/stewardship/greenway/connections.htm

To learn about the painfully slow progress of rail trail construction in Massachusetts, and the need for better land use policies at MassPike and similar agencies, check out the May 2001 Mass. Legislative Committee report, Getting on Track, at  http://www.state.ma.us/legis/senate/railtrail.htm . In it, the Cochituate Rail Trail is discussed on pp.15-16, and this MassPike section on p.14 (footnotes 75-79).

Because publicly-owned land in our State is routinely sold off for private development, our local legislators are supporting the new Public Lands Preservation Bill, Mass. Senate Bill No. 1109. MassPIRG's report on S-1109, This Land is Not Your Land, is at:
http://www.masspirg.org/reports/thisland/index.html.

New, June 2002: Print this one-page poster (450K), urging MassPike to keep the CRT a greenway instead of an alleyway.


This Web page has been created by John Brennan and Dick Miller of the Natick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Please e-mail your comments to TheMillers@millermicro.com