By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor
FALL RIVER, Mass. — After a seven-year hiatus, construction began last month on Phase II and III of the Alfred J. Lima Quequechan River Rail Trail, recently renamed after the city's former planner, resident and local environmental activist.
The new 1.4-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail will follow the Quequechan River on the former Fall River Rail bed to connect Britland Park with Phase I, the existing 1-mile trail completed in 2008. A spur at the western end of the trail will cross the river and connect to Rodman Street and downtown Fall River.
“The rail trail is a huge change of fortune for the river and the city,” said Julie Kelly, coordinator for Mass in Motion Fall River. Kelly credits Lima with envisioning the layout of the trail, connecting parks and neighborhoods, and fitting it into a larger scheme of city, regional and national bicycle paths.
“Al was a strong advocate for reclaiming the Quequechan,” she said.
Lima worked for 20 years to uncover the river that gave the city its name, after it was buried to accommodate Interstate I-195 in the 1960s, Kelly said. Quequechan is Wampanoag for “falling river.”
Eventually, planners hope to connect the trail to Somerset and the South Coast Bikeway, an off-road regional bike path, and the East Coast Greenway, an interstate bike path that runs from Calais, Maine to Key West, Fla.
“The Quequechan River Rail Trail maps showed that if the Providence to Provincetown Rail Trail was to become a reality, it would have to go through the Quequechan River Trail,” Lima said. “In addition to this east-west direction, we also showed that the north-south direction (of the East Coast Greenway) needed to go through Fall River, since the Newport to Boston rail trail would need to go through the city. In this sense, the (city’s bike maps) showed that our plan for the city was a requirement for these plans.”
In Lima’s history of Fall River, “A River and its City, he describes how local development is inextricably connected to the river. The second Fall River Railroad was built to serve the mills along the Quequechan River eastward along the coast to New Bedford.
Like the first Fall River Railroad that ran north to Boston, the second was subsumed by the New York-New Haven-Hartford Railroad in the early 1900s, and later called simply the New Haven line. In Fall River, trains from Boston connected with steamships to New York City. The rail bed was abandoned in 1968.
Stop and go funding
After the trail's first phase was completed in 2008, the nation fell into a recession — money markets froze and lending came to a standstill. Projects like rail trails were set aside.
But Mass in Motion Fall River kept it alive, making sure it was included in the city’s open space plan five years ago.
“What brought my interest to it is that it encourages physical activity,” Kelly said. “The trail swings under 195 and connects to a neighborhood that makes it easy for people to take a walk with their kids.”
The Quequechan River Rail Trail’s 10-foot-wide multiuse off-road path will be paved and will include traffic markings at intersections and landscaping. Historical signage along the trail will tell the story of the railbed, the mills, the neighborhoods and the river that ties them together.
Much of the $5 million cost for the trail under construction comes from repairing or replacing seven railroad bridges and trestles, accoridng to city engineer Byron Holmes.
The city is building the western section from Britland Park to Quequechan Street with funding from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. From there, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is building the connecting section to Brayton Avenue and Phase I, according to Holmes.
Phase IV, currently in design, will loop from Britland Park, along the eastern edge of the Quequechan River in back of historic mills in Flint Village on Pleasant Street and Alden Street, to Father Travassos Park. Holmes said the Phase IV design is about 80 percent complete and will include two prefabricated bridges to cross wetlands and the Quequechan River. Funding for this $2.5 million phase isn’t yet in place, he said.
Phases II and III are expected to be completed by June 30, 2016.