Planning Underway for Mass. Central Rail Trail Link Over I-95 in Waltham, Weston

A rendering of the proposed Mass. Central Rail Trail bridge over the MBTA Fitchburg Line. The project proposes to highlight abandoned rail infrastructure, including the "tell-tale" that was intended to warn train crews about overhead obstructions ahead. Courtesy of Mass. DCR.
A rendering of the proposed Mass. Central Rail Trail bridge over the MBTA Fitchburg Line. The project proposes to highlight abandoned rail infrastructure, including the "tell-tale" that was intended to warn train crews about overhead obstructions ahead. Courtesy of Mass. DCR.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has begun designing a short but crucial missing link in the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail (MCRT) to connect existing and under-construction segments of the trail in Weston and Waltham by bridging Interstate 95.

DCR officials and consultants presented their conceptual plans for the project In an online hearing last week.

At its western end, the project would begin where the 5-mile segment of the MCRT through Wayland and Weston currently ends, at the MBTA’s Fitchburg Line railroad tracks.

The project would rehabilitate an abandoned railroad bridge over the MBTA’s tracks (see rendering above), then continue along the abandoned railway to Interstate 95.

Overview map of the Mass. DCR's Weston-Wayland Mass. Central Rail Trail connection. Courtesy of the Mass. DCR.
Overview map of the Mass. DCR’s Weston-Wayland Mass. Central Rail Trail connection. Courtesy of the Mass. DCR.

There, the new trail would go over the freeway over a second railroad bridge to connect to Stow Street in Waltham, near Main Street.

The project’s consultants say that both of the railroad bridges are in good condition, but the trail project would remove their rails and replace them with new concrete decks to support the proposed trail.

In Waltham, an unrelated roadway project associated with nearby office park developments is planning to widen Route 117, reconfigure the I-95 interchange, and close the end of Stow Street to motorized traffic from Main Street. The MCRT would run around the edge of a new Stow Street cul-de-sac to meet Main Street at a new trail entry plaza, then continue along a shared-use sidepath on the north side of the widened Main Street to meet an existing segment of Waltham’s trail at Hillside Road:

The proposed trail would cross Waltham's Main Street/Route 117 at a traffic signal near Stow Street, then continue along a short side-path on Route 117 to the existing trail segment that starts at Hillside Road. An unrelated roadway project associated with nearby office park developments would widen Route 117, reconfigure the I-95 interchange, and close the end of Stow Street to motorized traffic from Main Street. Courtesy of Mass. DCR.
The proposed trail would cross Waltham’s Main Street/Route 117 at a traffic signal near Stow Street, then continue along a short side-path on Route 117 to the existing trail segment that starts at Hillside Road. Courtesy of Mass. DCR.
A rendering of the proposed trail entrance at Main Street and Stow Street, the northern end of which will be closed off to motorized traffic. Courtesy of Mass. DCR.
A rendering of the proposed trail entrance at Main Street and Stow Street, the northern end of which will be closed off to motorized traffic. Courtesy of Mass. DCR.

The proposed trail is less than a mile long, but it would connect two much longer MCRT segments. The existing 5-mile segment in Weston and Waltham is poised be extended 9 miles further west to meet the Assabet River Rail Trail in Hudson as part of an Eversource power line project that’s expected to go under construction in the next year.

And to the east, Waltham is currently building its segment of the MCRT from Main Street to Beaver Street, about 2.7 miles.

Mass. Central Rail Trail in Weston and Waltham. Solid green lines indicate trail sections that have been completed; the longer green dashed line marked (2) in Waltham is a trail segment that's currently under construction (as of 2022), and the grey dashed line in the center marked (1) is a half-mile segment, currently in design, that would utilize two abandoned railroad bridges over Interstate 95 and the MBTA's Fitchburg Line regional rail tracks.
Mass. Central Rail Trail in Weston and Waltham. Solid green lines indicate trail sections that have been completed; the longer green dashed line marked (2) in Waltham is a trail segment that’s currently under construction (as of 2022), and the grey dashed line in the center marked (1) is a half-mile segment, currently in design, that would utilize two abandoned railroad bridges over Interstate 95 and the MBTA’s Fitchburg Line regional rail tracks.

DCR officials expect that the design process that’s currently underway will produce shovel-ready plans and permits for this segment by the end of 2023. However, there’s currently no money budgeted for the project’s actual construction.

Gerald Autler, Director of Trails and Greenways at DCR, said that that means that any construction work on this segment is likely to be “several years out.”

In the meantime, intrepid trail users are already walking their bikes over the two abandoned railroad bridges over I-95 and the Fitchburg Line to get from Waltham to Weston – read Juliana Cherston’s November 2021 travel guide for details.

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