ORLEANS — When riders ask Orleans Cycle manager Barry Martin how to get to Chatham, he never suggests the direct route down Route 28.
Martin puts the cyclists on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs by his Main Street shop, for the 18-mile journey into Harwich and onto the spur that runs back into Chatham. In an interview last week, he said he's concerned about visitors who are “oblivious” to the reality that “Route 28 is not a safe place to ride bikes.”
There's renewed interest in at least part of that route as people are talking about running a path through the town's watershed, which parallels Route 28 just past the intersection of routes 28 and 39, to the village center. In 2009, the town used Community Preservation funds to pay for a study by the Fay, Spofford & Thorndike engineering firm that examined multiple options before recommending the town use the Route 28 corridor and right-of-way itself for a multi-use path.
At last week's selectmen's meeting, DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley told the board the bike connection plan “stopped” with the 2009 study. He said the board of water and sewer commissioners, which oversees the watershed, is not opposed to having a multi-modal path through some of that land.
But using the watershed is problematic. While it parallels Route 28, Daley noted that most of it does not directly abut the state road, with private properties intervening. What's more, the watershed land nearest Route 28 contains Level 1 zones of contribution to the town's wells; state Department of Environmental Protection regulations prohibit paths there. Daley pointed also to wetlands between Gould's Pond and Lisa's Way that would be affected.
“I think the best way is the direct way,” he said in supporting a multi-modal path within the road layout of Route 28. “This is a multi-million-dollar project, but those are my two cents.”
Selectman Mefford Runyon said he's brought up the idea of a path several times primarily because of public safety concerns. “There's a secondary desire to try to connect or come close to connecting with all the other public bike paths that are being put in on the Cape,” he said. “It doesn't matter whether we go along Route 28 or through the watershed.”
When he drives Route 28, Runyon said, “it's hard to see how you get a continuous run all the way down that road, but that's a job for the engineers. I also think costs are a part of this, but the first thing is to find out if it can be done at all.”
Selectman Alan McClennen suggested visiting the state Department of Transportation's District 5 office. “Ask them to show us the layout plans for Route 28, and then have a rational discussion about where the paved portion of that highway is within the layout,” he said. “Then you can begin to have a rational discussion about opportunities to have a shared or separate bike path within the right of way on 28 on one side or the other.”
Having served as his board's liaison to the former bike and walkways committee when the study was done, Selectman Chair Jon Fuller recalled that the state had been cool to any such work along Route 28. He said the issue of safe crossings at well-used roads was raised.
“I've worked with DOT 27, 28 years,” Daley said. “I've seen a change, particularly when it comes to the multi-modal aspects. I wouldn't have a problem having a conversation with them.”
The board asked Daley to look into the matter and advise it during his next quarterly report.