Letter: Construction Around Rail Trail Underpass Requires Special Attention To Sight Lines


Construction around Norwottock Rsil Trail underpass at Route 9 in Hadley. Photo: Rob Kusner

This past Monday I wrote to the Mass Department of Transportation to acknowledge the good efforts of their engineers in managing the current construction work on Route 9, particularly near the Norwottuck Rail Trail underpass in Hadley. Many thanks to them for the temporary bicycle accommodations at the Route 9 underpass.

While chairing the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Norwottuck Rail Trail Advisory Committee for the decade of its reconstruction (2007-2016) , I asked if this part of Route 9 might be soon widened, and whether (while the Trail was closed for the reconstruction) the underpass might be extended a bit to the southeast to accommodate that, but any such widening seemed remote enough back then… so … alas … here we are now….

And at that time, we did work diligently to make the north approach to the Route 9 underpass much safer.  This involved wetlands acquisitions and some complicated engineering of a curved concrete “boardwalk” there.  Folks seem pleased by those improvements.

Norwottock Rail Trail underpass at Route 9 with curved concrete boardwalk. Photo: PermaTrak.com

Clearly there’s a need to better accommodate purposeful bicycle transportation (e.g. commuting, shopping) along Route 9, as well as the purposeful and recreational uses along the Norwottuck Rail Trail.

So let’s keep the momentum going and ensure there will be excellent permanent bicycle accommodations all along the Hadley-Amherst stretch of Route 9 and better bicycle connections with the Norwottuck Rail Trail (bike lanes on both sides of Route 9 and also a better connection there to the trail on the southeast side of the underpass).

This Wednesday, I followed-up with a visit to the Route 9 construction site at the Norwottuck Rail Trail underpass. The “box culvert” extending the underpass  to the southeast is now inplace, and the stone retaining walls are being rebuilt.  The rapid progress there is very promising!

But the rapid pace also means paying close attention now to ensure that, when the repaving of the trail soon commences, the sight-lines into and out of the underpass to/from the southeast end of the
underpass are not compromised.

As I noted above, the northwestern end of the underpass suffered from dangerous sight-lines for over two decades, and that was only corrected when the Norwottuck Rail Trail was reconstructed a decade ago. Avoiding a similar problem on the southeast end should be simple enough if the bank on the south side of the trail were cut sufficiently to allow a gently “sweeping” curve of the Trail’s new pavement before realigning with the rest of the Trail further to the southeast.

Maybe the supervising DoT engineer is aware of this issue?  I hope so! It would be good if detailed  plans can be posted to confirm that this will be done. If the plans do not show that this will be done, then it is important to make a “course correction” right now, well before trail repaving happens there and a serious problem is “set in concrete”!

And it would be great if others can also “keep an eye on this” as they pass by the site.

Rob Kusner

Rob Kusner is Professor of Mathematics at UMass Amherst and is a former member of the Amherst Select Board.

Editor’s Note: Kusner received a note from project engineer Matthew J. Minihan, on September 29, informing him that sight lines had indeed been considered in re-designing the path exiting the tunnel. He wrote , “It was good to speak with you yesterday.  Regarding your line-of-sight concerns, our designer has confirmed that line of sight was considered when designing the path exiting the extended tunnel.  The proposed path exits to the south generally straight and sweeps gently to the south before reconnecting to the existing path.  It appears to be relocated to the south quite a bit.  I hope this addresses your concerns.”

Proposed exit plan for Norwottock rail trail tunnel. Photo: Mass DOT
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3 thoughts on “Letter: Construction Around Rail Trail Underpass Requires Special Attention To Sight Lines

  1. It was good of Matt to share this update– it took a week to find the right person to get the answer, and once he understood the concern, just under a day to get back to us.

    The contractors have a bit of work to reproduce this plan on the ground, but with any luck, the forecast for good weather will allow this to happen with all deliberate speed….

  2. Thanks, Rob Kusner, for helping to make sure its a safe place on the bike trail once construction is finished. Hetty

  3. Also DCR has done some great repair and replacement work on the deck of the Ct. river bridge.

    Other things they might consider are 1) repaving and replacement of the pipe culvert at the Hampshire Mall parking area entrance (too narrow and the pipe now acts as a nice speed bump) and 2) paving the “informal” trail entrance at the South Maple St. intersection. 3) New directional signs that tell you how to get to Northampton & Amherst or Belchertown and not made up place names by DCR that no one’s ever heard of. Where is “Hadley Depot?”

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