To the editor:
At its July 26 meeting, the Select Board voted to spend $1.43 of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) funds to improve the Lead Mills section of the Rail Trail.
When Selectwoman Alexa Singer asked about the rationale for the project, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer responded that it was scored under “infrastructure” and, “I think, economic.” (He did not know the score.) Chairwoman Erin Noonan then asked how the project met the ARPA criteria that monies be used for economic development, noting that covid had decimated small businesses in town.
It doesn’t. The project doesn’t add a link to Salem, and it doesn’t connect trail users to Marblehead’s business districts. To shop at Marblehead’s stores and patronize its restaurants, cyclists risk being hit by large utility vehicles (the Marblehead Municipal Light Department uses its substation as a storage yard). The path dead ends at Round House Road and Bessom Street, a hostile environment of illegally parked cars and heavy traffic, including semi-trailers serving Gilbert and Cole.
In contrast, Salem has provided a network of protected and designated bike lanes that access commuter rail, amusement parks, beaches and the Witch City’s vibrant downtown.
What about infrastructure, the other justification Mr. Kezer thought might apply? Here, things grew a bit fuzzy. Ms. Curran explained that the project is listed under three separate master plans: NetZero, Complete Streets and Rail Trail. But Sustainable Marblehead, the organization behind NetZero, disbanded its Transportation Actional Group years ago. (I briefly headed the SM TAG when Judith Black took a hiatus.) Although the Select Board signed the Complete Streets policy in 2018, it has failed to implement it. Worse — and there is no other word for it — residents have been lied to when it comes to Complete Streets.
That’s why I sponsored the new bylaw creating a Traffic Safety Advisory Committee with the express purpose of overseeing the Complete Streets Policy and dealing with all facets of the town’s transportation infrastructure. It will include three members of the public appointed in open session by the Select Board, and those members will be empowered by virtue of the annually rotating chair provision. Regular, monthly, public meetings will provide a venue for the community to develop a vision for Marblehead mobility 2035 and beyond.
The town administrator has not yet embraced the TSAC. The Select Board has chosen to hold off on appointing new members to any town board until November. These delays will make it difficult. Until the TSAC begins operating, residents will have to take it upon themselves to ask probing, pointed questions. Otherwise, we’re apt to spend $1.43 million on a pair of bridges to nowhere.