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Property easement finally paves way for VA park-and-ride lot

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Officials say construction on the lot at the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System is expected to begin sometime next year, after the city closed on an easement from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Wednesday.

In addition to the 75-space lot, the project includes a sheltered bus stop as well as a traffic signal with a crosswalk, which will allow easy access to the Mass Central/ Norwottuck Rail Trail. The new lot will encourage use of the Rail Trail, public transportation, and carpooling for commuters, especially to the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Springfield area, according to a press release from Wayne Fieden, Northampton’s director of planning and development.

MassDOT, with federal and state funds, paid for the design of the project and will fund the construction of the Park-and-Ride. MassDOT estimates the construction will cost about $1 million. All city costs on the lot will be provided by Smith College’s annual transportation demand management donation, a condition of their Ford Hall approval.

The city’s other park-and-ride lot, located at Sheldon Field Recreation Area of 51 Old Ferry Road, which has been open since 2000, sees an estimated 40 cars a day off area roads, according to city officials. There is a bus stop next to Sheldon Field on Bridge Street, and a traffic signal with a crosswalk, so that visitors can reach the bike path.

The city purchased Sheldon Field in 1999 to be a shared lot for users of the ballfields and the park-and-ride.

VA employees are expected to fill 25 of the spaces in the lot.

In 2004, the VA agreed in concept to the lot, subject to approving the final design of the project. The same year MassDOT began the process of obtaining federal and state funding.

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