State renews quest for Neponset Greenway trail funds

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Mar. 15, 2012

Months after federal officials passed over their initial proposal for funding, the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is renewing its pursuit of federal dollars to complete the Neponset Greenway trail.

Community activists and state agency officials were dealt a setback last December when the US Department of Transportation did not pick the trail expansion for grant funds through a competitive process known as TIGER III.

DCR officials, who are partnering with the state Department of Transportation for the second attempt at funds for the ten-mile corridor, said on Tuesday that they are planning to resubmit the proposal next week, this time for grant funds known as TIGER IV. The agency, which would provide $2.5 million for the project, is asking for $12.4 million from federal officials. Additional funding would come from project sponsors and partners, like National Grid and Stop and Shop, according to DCR.

The planned expansion includes two bridges in Mattapan, and the completion of what’s considered a missing link in a trail stretching from South Boston to the Blue Hills. One bridge is a pedestrian passageway over the Mattapan MBTA station, and the other span the river between Boston and Milton.The project also includes fleshing out the trail near the rainbow gas tank owned by National Grid, allowing for safer passage in a key segment of the trail along Dorchester Bay.

An announcement on the grant funding winners is expected in June. If the Neponset Greenway trail is included in the new outlay of funds, construction could begin as early as August, beginning with a segment along the Neponset Valley Parkway in Hyde Park.

Work on the second phase – a one-mile stretch between Milton’s Central Avenue and Mattapan Square – would begin next March, while work on a third segment – Morrissey Boulevard to Tenean Beach – would begin the following June. The full project would be complete in fall 2014, under the current DCR plan.
“We know we’re competitive, so we might prevail,” said Valerie Burns, head of the Boston Natural Areas Network, an advocacy group that has been closely tracking the project.

Burns pointed to less competition in this round of TIGER grant applications and to DCR joining up with the state transportation department as reasons for optimism. A DCR spokeswoman added that they had been asked to reapply.

It’s unclear if there is any sort of back-up plan if the project again fails to pick up the federal dollars.
“If we’re not successful with this round, we’ve got to come up with the Plan B and really begin to implement it,” Burns said.

That would likely mean a piecemeal approach, breaking up funding for the various segments that must be built out. Money for that work would likely come from state coffers, according to state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who represents Dorchester, Mattapan, and Milton.

Calling the missing links a “big priority for me,” Forry said she would work with fellow lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick, who lives near the trail, to obtain the funding. “We’re going to fight for the rest of it.”

The chase for federal funding along the Neponset comes as a spotlight shines on another greenway in the city: The 15-acre Rose Kennedy Greenway in the center of Boston that sprung up in the wake of the Big Dig. Under a bill that was up for a hearing this week before the Committee on Transportation, the state, which has already provided funding for the Kennedy Greenway, would send $20 million in additional money to the park over five years.

“Some of the funding commitments do raise questions of equity,” Burns acknowledged, before adding, “But I have to say I really am encouraged that the Patrick administration seems committed to figuring out how to fund this.”

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.