After decades of planning, a proposed 60-mile bike trail stretching from the Cape Cod canal to Providence, Rhode Island is starting to take shape with help from the South Coast Bike Alliance.
With several segments of the route already in use through Swansea, Fall River, New Bedford, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett and Wareham – utilizing on and off-road shared-use paths – organizers from the South Coast Bikeway Alliance are busy working on projects that will fill in the gaps and ultimately create a continuous bike route from Providence to Cape Cod.
Though all towns along the South Coast have committed to the path, construction is being done piecemeal. Here’s what’s going on in each town:
One of the longest existing segments of the South Coast Bikeway extends from New Bedford Harbor through Fairhaven to Mattapoisett Harbor. Construction is underway for an extension of that path along Mattapoisett’s waterfront.
The project, which will cost $6.7 million and includes a mix of state and federal grants, is expected to wrap up by April 2021. According to Bonne DeSousa of the Friends of the Mattapoisett Bike Path, recent construction has been focusing on completing environmentally sensitive work while the habitat is dormant.
“All pile driving is complete, rough grading and the first layer of pavement is in most locations and the bridge infrastructure is being placed,” DeSousa said.
A second leg, extending from North Street to connect to the proposed Marion Bike Path through the Mattapoisett Industrial Park, is approaching 100% design, and DeSousa said the Town is hoping to secure grant funding for construction from MassTrails and Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Jeffrey Oakes, a member of the Marion Bike Path Committee, said that the town is under contract to design and permit a 3.8 mile “phase 1” trail segment that would follow an abandoned rail line from the Mattapoisett town line to Point Road, north of Marion Center.
According to MassDOT’s workplan, the project is scheduled to go under construction in 2024, but Oakes says work could start sooner.
“If the project, which is currently in the 75-percent design and environmental permitting stage, continues to meet project milestones, it is possible construction could begin as early as the fall of 2022,” he said. “The public can let MassDOT District 5 know of its interest in seeing the project funded as soon as possible.”
In addition, Marion Open Space Acquisition Commission (MOSAC) recently obtained $268,000 for construction of a 0.76 mile compacted stone dust off-road path alongside Point Road in Marion.
Oakes said it would connect to the existing Creek Road Path, which in turn connects to the Route 6 sidewalks into Marion Village.
Just last month, the regional planning agency released a Route 6 Corridor Study, which could play a major role in how the South Coast Bikeway progresses.
That study examined potential road diets for the 4-lane highway, and suggested various alternatives that would provide 10-foot sidepaths or protected bike lanes on both sides of the road for the entire corridor.
Just down the road, Wareham Select Board member and South Coast Bikeway Alliance member Alan Slavin said it’s important to keep an eye on the Route 6 corridor, which is the most direct route between Wareham and the proposed Marion trail segment.
Although no paths in Wareham currently exist, the town is looking at two options, including a proposed pathway that would extend 12 miles from the Marion Bike Path to the town’s border with Buzzards Bay on the Cranberry Highway.
“The problem we’re looking at is cost,” Slavin said.
Slavin said an initial mile-long segment from Narrows Road, near downtown Wareham, to Minot Avenue in East Wareham could cost as much as $5 million.
“We’re scheduled to get funding by 2025, but if the Feds come in looking for ready-to-go capital projects, maybe this gets funded and goes forward,” Slavin said. “The bottom line is that we’re a necessary part of this route that would run from New Bedford to the Cape.”
Between Fall River and New Bedford, the bikeway has a steeper hill to climb.
According to Gail Roderigues, the chair of the Westport Bike and Walking Committee, her town is the only one without a firm consensus on the route. South Coast Bikeway Alliance maps suggest six possible routes between West New Bedford to Fall River. Two of those routes would utilize bike lanes along major roadways, while the others are proposed off-road paths.
Roderigues said the town has identified a few options but they’re putting all of our focus on raising funds.
“We’re keeping an eye on what’s happening with Route 6, but we’ve been looking at a pathway that would connect north of I-195 through Dartmouth,” she said. “It’s been a struggle to get people on board with this but I think we’re seeing a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.”
For Rodrigues, biking across the South Coast is something she grew up doing and hopes to bring back. In addition to promoting healthy, sustainable travel, biking, she said, could eventually lead to economic development along the route.
“We now have bikes that go along Route 88 over the bridge to the beach,” she said. “I see it all the time. There’s value there that could be important to towns like ours that don’t have big box stores propping up our tax base.”
Dana Forsythe is a Massachusetts-based freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience covering local and national news for sites like SYFY Wire, WBUR’s The ARTery, and Dig Boston.