WILLIAMSTOWN — By this time next year, hikers and bicyclists may move through Williamstown along a 3-mile stretch of the Hoosic River on a shared-use trail the state is expected to start building in the spring.
The $5.5 million project has been in the works for more than 10 years and will be built by Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
According to Andrew Groff, director of community development in Williamstown, all the designs and permits have been completed on the town side and turned over to MassDOT. It’s up to them when the project begins, but Groff expects works to start in the spring, since the job was sent out for bid in September.
A MassDOT spokesman could not be reached for comment.
The route begins near the corner of Syndicate and Simonds roads on the south side of the Hoosic River, Groff said. It will run alongside the Hoosic through Cole Field, cross over Cole Avenue and continue through the new Cole Apartments development, and cross over the Green River via pedestrian bridge.
From there it will continue along the Hoosic, passing through woodlands and cornfields, moving through The Spruces to emerge at Route 2 near the North Adams city line, where it will terminate, for now.
The most expensive aspects of the project are the pedestrian bridge over the Green River and the need to cap an old landfill before constructing the trail over it near the Cole Field route.
Groff said the shared-use path would be an asphalt surface until it reaches The Spruces. There, because of the floodplain, asphalt improvements are prohibited, so that section of the path will be a crushed cinder surface.
Benches will be set along the 12-foot-wide path, and the entire route offers views of the Berkshire Hills. “It’s really well designed and will be a big improvement for the town,” Groff said. “It will significantly enhance recreational opportunities along the Hoosic River.”
But that is just three miles in Williamstown. There are efforts to expand on that effort with a possible shared-use path that would meet up with the Williamstown path at Syndicate and then run north through Pownal and into Bennington, Vt. along the old track bed of the Berkshire Hills Trolley, which went defunct in the late 1920s, leaving the unused bed.
According to Mark Anders, transportation program manager for the Bennington County Regional Commission, the project is in the exploratory stage funded with a $30,000 grant from VTrans. It would wind up being about 12.5 miles long and would run from Williamstown to downtown Bennington at Beech and Main streets.
“It’s very cool, there are some very beautiful sections of the route,” Anders said.
A scoping study expected to be complete by the end of the year will gauge the interest of property owners and abutters along the route.
In addition, North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard confirmed the city is seeking a route through the west end of his city that would eventually meet up with the Adams stretch of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail on the south side of the city, bringing the entirety of the bike path through downtown North Adams.
Moving out for a bigger picture, there are a number of efforts afoot to expand on the Ashtuwiltukook Rail Trail to the south, including the recent effort to fund a $2.7 million project to extend the trail south to Crane Avenue in Pittsfield.
According to Groff, others are studying possible routes further south that would eventually extend into Connecticut.
Once all sections are completed during the next few decades, there could be a continuous hike/bike path from Bennington and parts north all the way south through Berkshire County and into Connecticut.