$2M on the line for Orange-to-Athol bikeway
ORANGE — Orange and Athol residents may be able to ditch their cars altogether or at least cut down on their gas expenses, and get a whole lot more fresh air and exercise by biking to work and stores.
That is, if the Legislature approves a Transportation Bond Bill for next year that includes funding to construct a riverfront bikeway between the two towns.
State Rep. Denise Andrews, one of many state and local officials working on the Millers River Bikeway Committee, wrote the amendment to the House Transportation Bond Bill to include $2 million for the first phase of a bikeway between South Main Street in Athol and River Street in Orange.
“This project is a win-win-win for our region, expanding transit and recreation options, enhancing quality of life, and supporting our work to expand tourism and economic development,” said Andrews.
Town Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy said the project has been a dream of North Quabbin residents and officials for the past two decades. Over the past year, he said, a group of dedicated residents, state and town officials pushed the initiative forward.
Andrews said the bikeway will expand transit and recreation options, “enhancing quality of life, and supporting our work to expand tourism and economic development.”
According to Kennedy, the bikeway will allow Orange and Athol residents who don’t have a vehicle, “to bike to Hannaford’s or Walmart” or even commute to work. And the trail will encourage other residents to take their bike instead of their vehicle to run errands, conserving budgets and natural resources.
The bikeway will also allow hikers traveling on one of the interstate trails such as the Metacomet and Monadnock Trail to more easily access the downtown eating and shopping areas of both towns.
Kennedy has mapped out a plan for the section of the trail running through Orange that will require approval from only four private land owners. The plan also involves negotiations with the Mahar Regional Schools, the Orange airport and town, as well as the Housing Authority.
Kennedy said negotiations with private property owners is one of the complicating factors that delayed the project in the past.
Another complication is the tight squeeze between river, road and ledge in the nine-mile stretch between Athol and Orange.
“In certain spots, “ he said, “there is no place to go but over the river ... and then of course, you have to come back over.” The construction of those pedestrian bridges will add an additional $4 million to the bikeway’s price tag.
“I will seek to have our senators increase (funding for the project) to $7 million,” Andrews wrote in an email to Kennedy in January. The Senate approved $2 million for the project in the Bond Bill in early March. Now, the House-Senate version of that bill is being reviewed by a conference committee.