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As one of the largest landowners in Massachusetts, the MBTA has many opportunities to manage its landholdings in such a way as to minimize the impact on the environment as well as to utilize traditionally underperforming land in a way that provides citizens with greater opportunities to bike and walk. Through a number of programs, the MBTA manages its extensive land holdings in ways that improves water quality, addresses longstanding and historic contamination issues, and enhances wildlife activities as well as enabling new bike paths that build better and more sustainable communities.
Rails to Trails
Over the past twenty years, the MBTA has collaboratively worked with 49 local communities and several state agencies to help create trails from existing rail rights of way. In 1993, The Minuteman Commuter Bikeway was commissioned.
The Minuteman Trail is a great example of how local, state and federal governments can collectively build environmentally friendly trails that become shared use routes through numerous towns. The MBTA has encouraged and enabled the
construction of trails by creating longterm leases (99 years), or permanently conveying the rights of way to the towns in which they are located. The Minuteman Trail links the MBTA Alewife Station, traveling through Cambridge, Arlington, Lexington, to Depot Park in the Town of Bedford. The trail is paved with asphalt, has mile markers, and is plowed in the winter months. The bikeway is collectively managed and maintained by the four communities through which it passes.
The Minuteman Trail has a number of interesting nearby sites, including the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a 250-acre wetlands on the Concord River which is a popular destination for bird watchers, walkers and families. There are many historical locations, such as the Hancock Clarke House which was the destination for Paul Revere and William Dawes on the eve of the American Revolution.
Since 1993 there have been a number of other trails constructed. For example, the MBTA leased a 25-mile route of the old New Haven Railroad Framingham & Lowell line to the communities of Lowell, Chelmsford, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord,
Sudbury, and Framingham to establish The Bruce Freeman Trail. The trail is a work in progress with three different phases of construction. The first phase, in Lowell and Chelmsford to Westford, is completed and is open to the public. The second phase includes the communities of Carlisle, Acton, Concord and a portion of Sudbury, and is in the final design stage. The third phase is under initial review by MassDOT and will require additional rights of way from CSX Railroad.
The MBTA has played a critical role in creating beautiful greenways that give people the opportunity to enjoy their surrounding environment, from natural preserves to historical sites. Preserving the environment is a fundamental part of the MBTA’s present and future plans, and it will continue to work with communities and other state agencies to create more beautiful trails. These trails will be protected so future generations can appreciate the natural surroundings of the communities the MBTA serves, as well as how the trails link with MBTA transit facilities.
Wildlife Crossing - Greenbush Line
The MBTA worked with the Division of Fish and Game (DFG) to design crossing structures that would allow the turtles and other forms of wildlfe to get across the right of way without the risk of being hit by a train or stranded on the tracks. These crossing structures were located where there were known turtle populations, as well as locations where there was suitable habitat. At the time, there were no crossing structures outside of “tunnels” or pipes which would go under the right of way for a rail line. The MBTA worked with DFG to design
innovative structures that would get the wildlife safely across the tracks while at the same time providing natural light so the crossings were not dark. These crossing structures were installed in between the ties and included tunneling structures and fencing so that wildlife would not get stuck on the rail line itself. These structures not only provide connections for turtles to cross the right of way, but also other wildlife. The MBTA conducted a study in 2012 to document the effective and use of the crossing structures. The study showed that a variety of wildlife are using these innovative structures to cross safely along the right of way.
As part of the Wachusett Extension Project, the MBTA will be constructing a layover facility in Westminster, MA that will be located in between two streams which support cold water fisheries.
The MBTA worked with the Division of Fish and Game (DFG) to design a stormwater management system for the layover facility that would not impact the two adjacent streams. Through that consultation with DFG, the MBTA has installed water quality monitors in the streams to measure preconstruction, during construction, and post construction water quality.
A gravel wetland was added to the stormwater management system to help eliminate warm water discharges to the streams. Gravel wetlands provide many stormwater benefits in addition to mitigating water temperature when used as part of an overall stormwater management system. The gravel wetland will discharge to a detention basin which will slowly infiltrate the water.
In 2012, the MBTA completed an eight month environmental clean-up at the Readville Yard 5. The Readville Yard 5 facility consists of a 45 acre parcel located on Industrial Drive at the border between Boston and Dedham. The site had been a major environmental and neighborhood concern given the high levels of lead and arsenic on the site which were the results of rail vehicle maintenance activities that took place on the site over the course of decades when it was owned by a former and now defunct railroad company. The MBTA inherited the land in the mid 1970’s as part of the railroads bankruptcy proceedings. Over time, the discovery of these contaminates became a major community concern that the MBTA needed to address. Even though it was not the MBTA’s actions that caused the contamination, as the owner of the site, the MBTA was responsible to fully address the clean up issues.
A total of approximately 17,840 tons of contaminated soil was removed off the property. In addition, the MBTA removed approximately 11.2 tons of miscellaneous trash, 1,008 tons of concrete and metals, and 74 tons of railroad ties. All materials and soil were disposed of at the appropriate disposal facility. The MBTA is planning to retain a portion of the property for rail use.
The MBTA does not currently need the site for railroad purposes and has worked with the communities to determine how to bring the now remediated site to a productive reuse. On the Dedham portion, the MBTA is planning to install 2.7 megawatts of solar arrays producing clean, renewable energy. On the Boston side, the MBTA is entering into a long term lease with a developer who is looking to build commercial development on the site, thereby adding jobs as well as improving the local tax base.
Scituate Salt Marsh
The MBTA built a salt marsh restoration site in Scituate to compensate for the impacts of the Greenbush Project. The project included 4.74 acres of salt marsh improvements. The MBTA is now in its 4th year of monitoring this mitigation area. This mitigation area has been a huge success in creating a beautiful, functional salt marsh adjacent to the North River. eighty-five percent of the land area has been colonized by salt marsh species. The pathway adjacent to the mitigation area provides a way for the public to view the mitigation area and also have a beautiful vista of the North River and its surrounding environs.
Handling of Excavated Materials
Through its major construction projects, the MBTA handles thousands of tons of soil excavation each year. To reduce disposal costs as well as to reduce impacts at landfills, the MBTA has set a goal of reusing at least 10% of all excavated soils within an MBTA project or for reuse on other projects being developed. By reusing soils on site, not only do we eliminate impacts on landfills, but we also eliminate the impacts, as well as the costs, to transport these materials. To ensure that these materials are properly reused, the MBTA developed new specifications for contractors giving them direction on handling materials.
One of the first necessary steps prior to excavation is the collection and sampling of soils which enables the MBTA to better understand how soils can be reused and if the soils can be reused on site. Whenever possible, on-site reuse of soils is preferred, but many times the environmental or structural traits of the soil prevent that from being possible. In addition, many times there is simply far more material excavated than what can be used on site.
With new soil management guidelines in place, the MBTA is realizing cost and contractions savings. By dealing with soil and its reuse on and off site, the MBTA had developed sustainable solutions for a long standing challenge facing most every project. Future projects such as the Salem Intermodal Facility, Wachusett Layover and Station, as well as the entire Fitchburg Line Rehabilitation project, will adopt these new standards for soil management.