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MassDOT Plans New Shared-Use Path Connection Between Northampton, Easthampton

A map of Northampton and Easthampton showing existing segments of the Manhan Rail Trail, which connects the two towns in a C shape. The Connecticut River meanders on the right side of the map. An east-west spur of the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton, which forms the bottom of the "C" shape, would be extended north towards downtown Northampton in an upcoming project. A dotted straight line indicates the location of that project. The dotted line stops just south of downtown Northampton and runs alongside the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge next to the river.

An upcoming MassDOT project will extend the Manhan Rail Trail to create a second off-street path connection between Easthampton and Northampton alongside Route 5 (dotted line).

Last week, MassDOT held a virtual public hearing for a project that will construct a new shared-use path alongside Route 5 between Northampton and the Mount Tom State Reservation in Easthampton.

The 1.25-mile path would extend an existing spur of the Manhan Rail Trail from its terminus near the intersection of East Street and North Street in Easthampton. From there, the path would continue north, through river oxbow wetlands, to the Exit 23 on- and off-ramps to the northbound lanes of Interstate 91.

The northern end of the trail would be about half a mile from the Pleasant Street roundabout on the southern edge of downtown Northampton (see map above).

This segment of Route 5 is currently a two-lane roadway with narrow shoulders, no sidewalks, and a 45 mph speed limit.

"This section of the roadway lacks accessibility for disabled pedestrians," said MassDOT project manager Muazzez Reardon. "This lack of bike and pedestrian facilities creates a gap in service" between the sidewalks and bike lanes of downtown Northampton to the north and the Manhan Rail Trail and the trails of the Mount Tom Reservation to the south.

MassDOT is proposing a 10-foot-wide shared-use path along the western side of Route 5, generally separated from the roadway with a landscaped buffer zone of varying width.

At the northern end of the project, where Route 5 meets the northbound I-91 interchange at a traffic signal, the project will install signalized crosswalks to get path users across 6 lanes of on- and off-ramp traffic.

A sketch of the proposed northern terminus of MassDOT's new Route 5 shared-use path in Northampton. The current project will install new signalized crosswalks at the on- and off-ramps to I-91 northbound, but will not include a sidewalk connection into the south end of Northampton, which is about half a mile away.

North of that interchange, bikes will be able to continue into the south side of Northampton on painted bike lanes, but there is currently a half-mile gap between the end of MassDOT's proposed project and the nearest sidewalk on Pleasant Street in Northampton.

According to officials from the City of Northampton, the state has no plans to fill in that half-mile sidewalk gap on Route 5.

Designing and environmental permitting for the project, which crosses wetlands along the Connecticut and Manhan Rivers, will take two more years, and the project is scheduled to go under construction in 2026.

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