Wellfleet Rail Trail extension being railroaded by state

This time the state seems determined to have its way with the town of Wellfleet.

In 2018 the state’s highway pros came to town to present a solution to our Route 6 troubles. There have been numerous accidents, including fatalities, and we had been casting about for a remedy. The state’s answer was the radical one of a “roundabout” (smaller rotary) to replace the traffic light at the entrance to town.

In the comment period, locals lined up at the microphone to tell the state’s highway experts, pretty much unanimously, what a bad idea that was. Some days later we heard that the state had backed off the roundabout idea, presumably making the sensible decision that even though they are the designated road experts, the best thing the experts could do in this case is listen to those who actually use the roads in question and have firsthand knowledge of the problems.

Just a few months later a different set of state experts came to town to present another idea of theirs: extending the Rail Trail along the remaining bit of undeveloped railroad bed, adding hordes of bikers (1000 is the state’s estimate of summer usage) to that very same troubled stretch of Route 6..

There has been considerable opposition to this plan, culminating in the strong passage at town meeting of a petitioned article instructing the Select Board to object to the state’s insistence on this idea.

But this time, according to a May 13th story in this paper, the state “remains unswayed by local comments” and is pushing ahead with the original plan, despite the town meeting vote. Toward this end, it is considering buying property on Route 6 adjacent to the intersection of the proposed extension and the highway, to enlarge the parking on Route 6 to accommodate the hordes expected to result rom the planned extension.

The town has been slow to awaken to this issue. For a while it was seen, if at all, as an abutters’ issue. But as the town meeting vote suggests, many people, when they learn about it, are alarmed at the idea of deliberately leading hordes of bicyclists to route 6 (the state estimates 1000 a day), thus presenting them with the attractive nuisance, as lawyers say, of pushing on the relatively short distance into Wellfleeet’s downtown, with no safe or sensible way to get there.

The hope is that the Department of Transportation will build a two-way bike lane along the east side of route 6. But it’s not clear that this is feasible, given the already dangerous congestion along that stretch. (It’s a route warned against in the Cape Cod Commission’s thorough 2017 report as an “area of concern needing further study… due to the large number of commercial curb cuts and heavy traffic volumes.”)

And there has been no talk I’m aware of how said hordes, having been lured thus far, make it along the narrow, business lined East Main Street into the center of town.

The Rail Trail extension is obviously a pet idea of the state they (and local supporters of the plan) are loath to let go of. And the idea of re-purposing the abandoned railroad bed as a trail for bikers, walkers and joggers all the way to its end in Provincetown is a lovely one. But the fact is that a curb-cut defying, two-way widening of busy Route 6 to the Main Street exit (or, farther, all the way to Provincetown, the eventual goal) is not only dangerous but strays unrecognizeably from the original bike path concept as a scenic meander away from roads.

As with the roundabout decision, the state should let local knowledge and experience prevail.

As urged by the town meeting vote, the Select Board should do what it can to protect the town’s interests against the state’s ill-conceived Rail Trail plan.

Interested citizens should attend relevant upcoming Select Board meetings and keep an eye out for an important meeting the state has been hinting at scheduling in June.

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