Residents of a Springfield, Massachusetts neighborhood joined with elected officials to praise the construction of a pedestrian underpass they believe will save lives.
For many years, people have walked a well-worn footpath between the Brightwood and Memorial Square areas in Springfield’s North End neighborhood. Brightwood is mostly residential. Memorial Square has markets and restaurants.
But the popular path includes an unauthorized crossing at a double set of railroad tracks used by both freight and passenger trains. Through the years there have been tragedies.
Now, the finishing touches are being put on a $6.7 million project that will allow people to walk safely under the railroad tracks.
"This is God sent. We're going to save lives," said Ward One City Councilor Adam Gomez.
Gomez, who grew up in the North End, said a childhood friend lost both legs when he was hit by a train. Last year at the crossing, a grandmother was killed when she was struck by the Amtrak Vermonter.
" We all came together with the neighborhood because if it were not for activism this project would not happen," said Gomez.
Before the project could happen there had to be approvals and funding from both federal and state transportation agencies. The Springfield City Council had to authorize two land takings.
Jose Claudio, chief operating officer at the New North Citizens Council, said not everyone was sold at first on the idea of an underpass because of concerns about using it at night.
" It will be lighted and people will be able to see from one side to the other," explained Claudio. "It is not a tunnel, it is an underpass."
After all the years of neighborhood activism and the time consuming pursuit of funding for the project by the city’s legislative delegation, the actual construction of the underpass had to be accomplished quickly.
Trains were halted, sections of track were removed, the area was excavated, the concrete poured, the area back-filled, and the tracks replaced – all in five days.
The walkways leading to both sides of the underpass from Birnie Avenue on one end and Plainfield Street on the other still need to be built and lighting installed.
It is expected to open for pedestrians to use by November.