The Select Board prioritized its fiscal 2023 projects and programs Monday in five categories, with resurrection of the proposed extension of the Minuteman Bikeway emerging as the overall highest goal.
The goals are “chiefly useful as a framework for staff to know how to direct their energy and resources,” explained board chair Emily Mitchell. “The fact that all these things are on our goals list is an expression of our commitment. We have to put them in some order,” added her colleague, Margot Fleischman.
Besides the bikeway, which led the “transportation” category, other top priorities were fire station design under “infrastructure,” strengthening the food bank in the “community improvements” category, and “organizational capacity” under “financial.”
In addition, the board added the category of “community engagement,” and led that list with “public meeting access (see related story).”
The three-hour meeting examined almost two dozen topics in detail, with board members intentionally and successfully targeting unanimity on all priorities.
Although it topped the goals standings, the bikeway extension was not discussed. It didn’t have to be—the project goes back more than a decade.
The state-funded project, including a shared-use path on Railroad Avenue, is proposed to connect the current bikeway terminus at Depot Park to a point near the Concord line west of Route 62.
Several times over the years, town meetings have approved the project in various stages of design. What was expected to be the final votes were scheduled for Annual Town Meeting in March 2022, when voters okayed $1.5 million in community preservation funds to procure remaining property easements.
But a companion provision authorizing the Select Board to spend the money required a two-thirds vote because of some eminent domain procurements. The measure was supported, but only by 60 percent, effectively killing the project.
The Select Board soon announced that it would place the proposal on the November special town meeting warrant, in an effort to regain funding in a subsequent Transportation Improvement Plan. The board said there would be information sessions and other preparatory work leading to town meeting; that activity will be the priority. After the November vote, up or down, there will be little left to do in connection with the bikeway this fiscal year.
Runner-up as a transportation goal was “local transit initiatives,” which particularly means the restoration of bus stops deleted by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Other initiatives include bike-sharing services and expansion of the Bedford Local Transit.
Intersection improvements were a third priority: the ongoing work at North and Chelmsford Roads and possible betterments at South Road and Summer Street, accompanying construction of a few housing units nearby.
The Great Road Master Plan—specifically the intersection of The Great, Concord, and North Roads (Willson Park) – came in fourth.
Members pointed out that now there are new variables, such as the relocation of the fire station farther east on The Great Road. Fleischman pointed out that pre-pandemic traffic counts may be irrelevant; indeed, even now it may be premature to update traffic volume data. “It’s still a really bad intersection. But if we reengage with traffic engineers we may get unreliable data,” she said.
Board member Shawn Hanegan said options can still be explored without traffic counts. But Mitchell warned that a high priority might be unreachable—“one more contentious thing that we’re taking on. Let’s be honest what can we accomplish in 10 months.”
Amy Fidalgo, Assistant Town Manager of Operations, noted that there’s a capital expenditure placeholder for this project in a couple of years, but there never has been any consensus on the best option for realigning the intersection.
(Fidalgo and Colleen Doyle, Assistant Town Manager for Human Resources and Administration, provided staff support at Monday’s meeting, which had been rescheduled from Aug. 8. Town Manager Sarah Stanton was not available on the revised date.)
Continued implementation of safe routes to school – part of the Complete Streets improvements — was the other transportation item.
Under infrastructure, fire station design was followed by updating the town tree policy, which board members pointed out is more urgent because of ongoing damage by the emerald ash borer.
The next ranked goal was long-term planning for the future of Springs Brook Park. “Understand that the commitment to Springs Brook Park is that it remain open and may be transformed,” Fleischman commented. Mitchell agreed: it’s not an issue of closing, but more inclusive use. “What can we use the space for in a better way?” Fidalgo posed.
A start to the installation of boilers, roofing, and other changes aimed at complying with the town’s energy net-zero goal was placed after Springs Brook Park. Members noted that staff will soon be augmented by an energy and sustainability manager. The remaining energy goal was digesting the completion of the ongoing municipal space inventory and evaluation.
Refining the organization and execution of the town food bank led the community improvement goals. Fidalgo noted that a half-time food bank coordinator will soon begin work.
Housing diversity was the runner-up, as Select Board members noted ongoing efforts – zoning amendments, an ambitious Local Initiative Project (LIP), and new state multi-unit requirements affecting MBTA cities and towns.
The Bedford Historical Society has responded to a request for proposals to establish a town museum primarily on the third floor of Old Town Hall, and that is the third community improvements goal. Also on the list were improvements to the Town Common, perhaps to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the founding of Bedford in 2029.
Organizational capacity, which topped the financial goals, refers to accommodating the various demands on town staff. Those demands continue to grow – board members mentioned things like arranging hybrid meetings, which no one ever considered before the Covid-19 pandemic, and carrying out public records requests.
Also ranked in the financial categories were updating financial policies and future prospects for funding public access television.
The board ranked the finalists in each category. Behind the bikeway were organizational capacity, the fire station, public access at meetings, and advancing the food bank. “There are a lot of important things in the two and three slots,” Mitchell stressed.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763