The Blackstone River Bikeway has been talked about and plotted on
paper for more than 10 years. Oodles of taxpayers' money has been allotted to
design and build the paved path from Worcester to Providence.
But where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, not one inch of the 26-mile bike path in Massachusetts is a reality -- unless you count stretches of existing roads, such as Millbury's North Main Street (Route 122A), that eventually will have signs labeling their shoulders part of the bike route. That is not to say that signs alone make a road any more desirable for cycling than it is now.
Bill Perry, for one, is getting impatient.
"The Rhode Island people are chugging along," said Perry, who is director of tourism for the Blackstone Valley Visitors Bureau. "Massachusetts doesn't seem to be getting it done."
Rhode Island opened a 3-mile segment of the bikeway in Lincoln in October, with a parking area off Route 116, and hopes to open the next stretch, through Cumberland to Woonsocket, in the fall.
Meanwhile, north of the state line, Perry said, "The impression I'm getting is that the Big Dig is requiring a lot of resources," at the expense of other transportation projects.
A year ago, $6 million was earmarked for the Blackstone River Bikeway in a six-year, $203 billion federal transportation package known as TEA 21.
"What are we waiting for? Why can't we use that money to get rolling?" Perry asked. "We're trying to understand what we have to do to unlock that money."
The TEA 21 money requires a 20 percent match from the state, said Michael Mershon, press secretary for U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, who gets credit for bringing home the $6 million. Transportation projects across Massachusetts have been delayed at the state level, he said, and he did not deny the suggestion that the Big Dig is the reason.
"Congressman McGovern's position is that numerous projects outside of Boston, including the bikeway, deserve the state's attention," Mershon said.
The Blackstone River Bikeway got a vote of confidence last month when the Massachusetts committee of the East Coast Greenway Alliance chose Worcester-to-Providence, rather than Boston-to-Providence, for its main route. The alliance envisions connecting hundreds of miles of recreational paths to form an "urban Appalachian trail" from Maine to Florida.
Jane Weidman, former project manager for the Blackstone River Bikeway, is producing a map of the route for the East Coast Greenway Alliance. It should be available next month, she said, from the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission (401 762-0250). "It shows the planned route, and an on-road ride route you can do in the meantime," she said.
Pieces of the bikeway in Worcester and Blackstone are actually in the works, but don't pump up your tires just yet.
The Massachusetts Highway Department has chosen Rhode Island engineer Gordon Archibald to conduct structural evaluation, preliminary design and cost analysis for a three-mile stretch of the bikeway that coincides with the existing Southern New England Trunkline Trail in Blackstone, Millville and Uxbridge. The trail segment includes 13 old railroad bridges in need of repairs.
But the $250,000 contract with Archibald has yet to be inked. "We're waiting for the Legislature to pass supplemental transportation funding ... to make up for a federal shortfall in the neighborhood of $300 million," said Mass. Highway spokesman Jon Carlisle. He predicted Archibald will get the go-ahead this summer, and final design work could follow next year.
At the northern end of the route, Mass. Highway is spending about $2.2 million for the bikeway as part of the Massachusetts Turnpike-Route 146 interchange, Carlisle said. Mass. Highway has designed about three miles of paved bike path from Route 122A in Millbury to Worcester's Millbury Street, passing under the road spaghetti that makes up the new interchange, which opened to cars last fall. The bike path will have a spur, using the shoulder of Route 20, to a Park and Ride lot with a proposed bus connection, said Lenny Barbieri, manager of special projects for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
From the intersection of Millbury and Ballard streets, cyclists will have two on-road options for heading north into the city: a rebuilt Millbury Street through Quinsigamond Village, or Ballard Street to Brosnihan Square. Ultimately, an on-road extension to Union Station is planned.
Excavation has begun in the Mass. Pike interchange area, and stretches of asphalt may be laid in 2000 or 2001 before all the connecting pieces are put together, but the turnpike portion of the bikeway won't be open before fall 2001, Barbieri said, when two rehabilitated historic bridges will be installed over the river and canal flood plain in Millbury. The final work on this section of the bikeway, including signs and road markings in the Route 20 area, is scheduled for completion by fall 2002, he said.
TIP OF THE HELMET -- to Westboro High School sophomore Ben Thayer, 16. For his Eagle Scout project, Thayer coordinated a volunteer team that collected 192 used bicycles on May 1 for Pedals for Progress. The bikes will be shipped next week to Senegal, where Africans will be trained to repair them and will sell the bikes for the equivalent of about $15 each.
"It's an investment," Thayer explained. "It helps their lives a lot. Not a lot of people there have cars, and there's no infrastructure for them. But bikes are a really good way of transportation. For example, a woman taking her goods to market can bike to more markets than she could reach on foot. Or a carpenter, say, can only walk for about a mile with all his tools, but with a bike he can expand his business to about an eight-mile radius."
Pedals for Progress, based in New Jersey, recycles bikes in several countries in Latin America and Africa. The organization's collection schedule and details of its international partnerships are on its Web site, http://www.p4p.org/.
Part of what makes the annual Mount Washington Bicycle Hillclimb so challenging is that no one is allowed to bike the route -- 7.6 miles up the auto road to the summit of New Hampshire's highest peak -- until the race itself. But this year, race organizers have scheduled a practice day. Cyclists who are registered for the Aug. 21 race can take a shot at the mountain June 12, starting between 5 and 7 a.m. They are not allowed to bike back down the road and must arrange their own automobile ride from the summit to the base.
The race entry fee is $100. To register, contact Tin Mountain Conservation Center (603 447-6991, email@example.com) or visit www.tinmtn.org/tinmtn/hillclimb/.