Environmental Agencies and the Bike Path

Due to the recent snow storm, the Mattapoisett Bike Path Committee could not hold their regular meeting. But I had an opportunity to catch-up with Chairman Bonne DeSousa, who shared the current status of the project.

It wasn’t long into our conversation when it became very clear just how difficult a process it is to build a bike path through neighborhoods, backyards, rail trails, private golf courses, and wetlands, and to secure permissions from state and federal agencies. Not unlike peeling an onion, DeSousa and her group push on, layer-by-layer.

For many years, various prime-movers have worked tirelessly to try and bring the connection from Fairhaven through Mattapoisett and onward to eventually tie into the Marion Bike Path, which is currently in planning. With the majority of the funding coming from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, there are numerous I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed. Plus the DOT has been going through a major departmental re-organization that has slowed down bike path projects. DeSousa said environmental permits that previously were settled have changed with the DOT paradigm shift. She said that many of the DOT departments that have been combined and now oversee bike paths are geared primarily towards highways and roads versus bike paths. This has caused a bit of an uphill climb in getting a clear definition of what the DOT wants from Mattapoisett at this point for the project. But with most of those convulsions behind them, DeSousa said they are just about done with paperwork and supporting documents for the DOT. DeSousa remains optimistic and believes positively that given a bit more time and clear direction from the DOT, the bike path will be able to move into the next phase of construction. Her optimism is fueled by a number of things.

First and foremost the public, the state, and the federal government want more access to bike paths to foster physical activities and reduce air pollution. Mattapoisett has committed funds to the project via town meeting, a study is underway at Goodspeed Island to explore issues associated with marshlands and waterways, and the Mattapoisett Land Trust is working to help assist with the project. DeSousa said that there will be a public hearing in the future, at which time updated details will be shared in order to keep the community fully apprised and hopefully engaged in the project.

In addition, she shared that there is a Healthy Transportation Directive that includes bike paths and sidewalks. “Anything to get the public moving and out of cars,” DeSousa explained. Expanding on that thought, she also said that Mattapoisett’s bike path project is at the top of the DOT list. She said that there are 400 miles of bike paths on the drawing board, with the top 100 miles being those on which the DOT is now focusing. Twenty-seven of that top 100 miles are in Mattapoisett.

Finally, the Bike Path Committee, with DeSousa leading the charge, will hold events and engage the public through a variety of activities. She noted that volunteers for every facet of these projects are needed. She’ll be grant writing under the title of ‘People for Bikes’, recruiting local businesses as bike-friendly enterprises where notices and fliers can be placed, and organizing internet-based ‘crowd funding’, a pledge ride, social events, and bike safety training for families and children.

Upcoming dates to remember if you want to get involved are: March 27: South Coast Bikeway Annual Summit; April 2 – 3: Bike Safety for Kids; May 1- September 30: National Bike Challenge; May 4: South Coast Bikeway/New Bedford Bike Committee Pedal Party; and May 12 – 16: Bike-to-Work-week. If you want more information or to find out how you can help, contact Bonne DeSousa at bdesousa43@verizon.net.

           By Marilou Newell


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