CHATHAM – A shuttle bus could still be coming to town, despite the board of selectmen's rejection of a shuttle system as a way to help solve the downtown parking problem.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is sitting on grant funds awarded several years ago and is moving ahead with the purchase of a shuttle to serve the Eastern Massachusetts Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
“There's still a lot of uncertainty” surrounding the details of a shuttle operation, said Refuge Complex Project Manager Libby Herland, and may depend in part on who operates the shuttle, whether it is a Friends group or a private contractor. The plan is to purchase a vehicle this fall and implement a transportation program next season.
Originally envisioned as a three-year pilot program in partnership with the town, the Fish and Wildlife Service is going ahead with the shuttle even though selectmen rejected federal funding in 2014. Selectmen at the time expressed concern there potentially being too many strings attached to a federal partnership. They also cited opposition to a shuttle by Morris Island residents as well as the additional time it would take a shuttle to make the trip to the refuge headquarters there.
Selectmen more recently rejected using a shuttle as a way to alleviate downtown parking congestion, opting instead to ask an ad hoc committee to develop a set of recommendations to free up more parking spaces.
The plan to use a shuttle bus to reduce vehicle traffic to the refuge headquarters – which is located off a private road on Morris Island – as well as parking along the Morris Island Road causeway has been around for nearly a decade. A study was first funded in 2007 through the Federal Transit Administration's Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands program, according to the Monomoy Refuge's recent Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). The U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center completed a study in May 2010, identifying 39 transportation issues and evaluating 21 options, including working with the town and Cape Cod National Seashore on a system to reduce traffic and parking congestion both around Monomoy and in town.
In 2012 the refuge received $400,000 from the department of transportation to implement components of the study.
Among the recommendations in the CCP is the institution of seasonal permit parking at the refuge headquarters. A shuttle would work with this plan by taking visitors to Monomoy from an off-site satellite parking location. A specific site has not been identified, but in talks with the town and in the Volpe study remote parking lots at the Monomoy Middle School and Chatham Elementary School were suggested.
The original proposal was for a bio-diesel shuttle bus that would also serve Lighthouse Beach and Main Street.
The refuge is also looking at additional signage to direct visitors to the refuge. The CCP states that directional and informational signs may be placed throughout the Cape and along Route 6, as well as in town. The CCP also proposes some sort of downtown visitor center for the refuge which could serve as a stop for a shuttle.
Herland touched on those ideas in a recent meeting with town officials, and while she stressed the talks were very preliminary, she characterized the reaction as good.
“I think the town realizes that we are an important part of the town, we contribute economically to the town,” she said.
Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said she related the selectmen's concerns to Herland, and has yet to research what town approvals, if any, are needed for the agency to operate a shuttle.
Herland said if the shuttle cannot be used at Monomoy in the short term it will be used elsewhere within the Eastern Massachusetts Refuge Complex, which also includes the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury, Stow, Maynard and Hudson; the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury, Wayland, Lincoln, Concord, Carlisle, Bedford and Billerica; the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge in Mashpee and Falmouth; the Massasoit National Wildlife Refuge in Plymouth; and Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge in Nantucket; and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge in Harvard, Ayer and Shirley.