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Patrick Administration plans to spend up to $15 million on Neponset River Trail

Kenneth J. Cooper | 6/19/2013, 2:08 p.m.

The Patrick Administration has committed state funds to complete the Neponset River trail after unsuccessfully seeking federal stimulus grants for the recreation and commuter project.

Unfinished sections of the walking, jogging and biking trail include a one mile extension in Mattapan between Blue Hill Avenue and Central Avenue. Health advocates say its completion could help reduce the 40 percent rate of adult obesity in Mattapan, the highest in the city.

Patrick’s office last week announced the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will provide almost $2 million to finalize the design of the last parts of the trail through Hyde Park, Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester. MassDOT will spend another $11 million to $15 million on construction.

“Investing in healthy, alternative modes of transportation will benefit residents today, and leave a lasting impact on the Neponset River Greenway Corridor for generations to come,” Governor Deval Patrick said.

His office reported that more than 10,000 people use the trail daily, a number that the state expects to double once it is completed. Patrick’s office gave no timetable for construction to conclude.

“While we have enjoyed for years the completed sections of the greenway in Dorchester and Milton, we in Mattapan have always felt that the failure to complete the section between Mattapan Square and Central Avenue represented an injustice,” said Vivien Morris, chairperson of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. “Our coalition along with many others have long advocated for the righting of this wrong, and now the governor has stepped in. We couldn’t be happier!” 

The Department of Conservation and Recreation oversees the trail. MassDOT is involved because some bicyclists commute to work on the trail, which lies within a half mile of 11 rail transit stops.

Commissioner Edward Lambert said the Department of Conservation and Recreation “considers the completion of the Neponset River Corridor to be a signature project that will connect our Blue Hills Reservation to Boston Harbor, while providing more access to public spaces for residents in urban neighborhoods, connecting communities and improving the transportation network.”

The Mattapan section cleared a major hurdle in 2011 when the department decided that the Blue Hill Avenue-Central Avenue section would be entirely on the Mattapan side of the Neponset River.

Other proposed routes that would have shared the trail between Mattapan and Milton were scuttled by vocal residents of the Capen Street area who imagined an influx of criminals from predominately black Mattapan. MBTA police said crime reports associated with the Mattapan trolley line between Mattapan Square and Ashmont Station have not reflected such a pattern.

The MBTA had presented another obstacle to completing the Mattapan section of the trail by not allowing it to cross the trolley tracks at ground level near Mattapan Square. The Department of Conservation and Recreation resolved that problem by adding a long bridge over the tracks there, adding about $2 million to construction costs.

The square will become the home of a visitors center and outdoor plaza at a former furniture store on Blue Hill Avenue at River Street. The state acquired the property for $400,000, using its eminent domain powers.

At popular Ryan Park on River Street, a canoe launch will be upgraded and an existing dirt trail there is likely to be paved, widened and beautified.

The other section of trail to be completed runs north from Pope John Paul II Park near Neponset Circle in Dorchester, past Tenean Beach and parallel to Morrissey Boulevard. The state plans to use part of the right-of-way to the Southeast Expressway to take trail users safely past highway ramps and streets with a heavy flow of vehicle traffic.

Planning for the Neponset trail began more than two decades ago. Completion has been slowed by approval of needed funding, opposition in some neighborhoods and acquisition of private property along the river.

The state applied twice for federal stimulus funding for transportation projects to complete the Mattapan and Dorchester sections, but did not win a grant in the national competitions.