In a few years, you should be able to much more easily and safely walk, bike or jog from Mansfield through Norton and to near Taunton.
A long-awaited extension of the Mansfield rail trail is finally poised to become a reality, something backers say will help bring residents and the communities together.
Funding is earmarked for the $3.8 million project, which is scheduled to begin in spring 2022 and wrap up around 2023.
It would be an extension of the existing two-mile Mansfield World War II Veterans Memorial Trail that ends just north of Fruit Street in that town.
A 10- to 12-foot wide shared-use and mostly paved recreational path will go about four miles from the end of the trail in Mansfield south to near Crane Street in Norton and Myles Standish Industrial Park in Taunton along a former railroad corridor.
It would enable walkers, bikers and others to pretty much go all the way from the Mansfield Commuter Rail Station to the industrial park.
The trail will provide year-round recreation for cyclists, wheelchair users, strollers, horseback riders, runners, walkers, birdwatchers, in-line skaters, and cross-country skiers.
The trail will also provide improved access to conservation land in Norton, including Johnson Acres, Henrich Woods and the Winthrop Dahl Nature Preserve.
“It’s going to be amazing when it goes through,” Mansfield select board member Steven Schoonveld said. “It’s going to bring so much more vitality to downtown” in Mansfield.
State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, added “we’re extremely thrilled. This really fits in with what we hope to achieve to continue economic development.” Barrows said the Mansfield path has “really added great enhancement” to the town.
The two were among about 100 people who attended a recent public hearing on the plans at Norton’s library, and most were generally supportive.
Some expressed concerns with the safety of 10 road crossings, including East Main Street (Route 123), and using part of North Washington and Cobb streets that provide a connection over Interstate 495. The trail will involve about 1,800 feet of roads, with a bike lane.
“This is very busy, tons of truck traffic,” Norton resident Alan Cekanavich said of North Washington Street he lives on. He also said he feared “new four-wheel drive traffic is going to run rampant” and create noise.
“The danger of all the street crossings is immense,” Cekanavich said.
There will be signs, warning lights including an overhead one over East Main, ramps and sidewalks, project manager Matthew Shute of Beta Group of Norwood said.
“The intention is to get people off the roads and conflicting with vehicles,” Shute said of the path.
A local biker, Chris Keyes, pointed out other bike paths have many road crossings.
“I can’t wait for this to begin,” Charles Conant of North Washington Street and an abutter to the path said.
“This is going to be great for Norton.”
Parking areas are proposed at some locations, including at the end of the extended trail. Information kiosks, trash receptacles and benches are also planned.
Some easements need to be acquired.
The project has been designed to the 25 percent stage, and public input will be factored in when moving to final design, which should be wrapped up by May, officials said.
The hearing was held by the state Department of Transportation, Highway Division, which is coordinating the project with Mansfield and Norton officials.
“We’ve worked for several years” on the project, Norton Town Manager Michael Yunits said. “We look forward to it moving along.”
The trail extension was originally proposed back in 2000 but didn’t move along for several reasons, including abutter opposition and funding issues. The state is funding 20 percent of the costs, with the federal government picking up the remainder.
The trail has been included in the regional planning agency Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD) transportation plan.