September 11, 2023
• Interest has been strong in connecting Needham to Newton through a new Community Way, but the question remains: Would it be feasible?
Since April 2023, Needham and Newton working groups have been looking hard at whether or not a new Community Way could be formed, and, if so, what would it look like. Together, they have enlisted the services of Greenman-Pedersen, Incorporated (GPI) to conduct a study, measuring community interest, and sketching out rough details of the project. Through community meetings and a survey, data was gathered and they are preparing to issue a final report to the public on Friday, September 22.
At a Community Meeting held on September 7th, GPI’s Project Manager, Carolyn Redisch presented their vision of the trail, proposing two possible versions. One would be a pedestrian and bike path, and the other would incorporate an additional single-lane way intended for an electric shuttle service. Both versions would center on leasing the abandoned rail line from Webster Street in Needham, to Oak Street in Newton, where the Community Way would meld into the existing Upper Falls Greenway, a distance of just under a mile.
The survey pulled in 445 responses, approximately half from Newton, half from Needham. Of the total respondents, about half of them identified themselves as living in proximity to the potential trail. Reactions were generally positive, with one-third preferring an electric shuttle alternative, and two-thirds supporting the bike-and-pedestrian-trail-only alternative. Also expressing interest in the project were members of the Bay Colony Rail Trail, who stated that the project would fit within their long-term vision, although they would like to eventually see an on-road extension connecting it to the trail at the southern end of Needham, beyond the Needham Junction MBTA station.
Regardless of which option pursued, two major factors that would need to be addressed are the spans across I-95/Route 128 and the Charles River. The original railroad bridge was taken town as part of the Massachusetts Add-A-Lane project, expanding the highway. Any effort to build a new bridge would require the cooperation of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. While the Charles River bridge still stands, extensive work would have to be done depending on the preferred alternative.
GPI projected that the cost of the project could range from $22.2 million, for a pedestrian and bicycle path, to anywhere between $47.7 and $59.9 million, if the way were to include the electric shuttle bus option. As they prepare to release their final report, a presentation to the Needham Select Board is scheduled for their meeting on September 12th. The GPI report will then be posted to the websites of Needham and Newton on the 22nd, after which they will be soliciting further community feedback. Ultimately, the next step would be for both Needham and Newton to determine together whether they wish to pursue the Community Way at this time, and if so, which of the two options would be preferable.