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Editorial: Rail trail construction warrants Route 9 caution

Starting this week, motorists along Route 9 will notice more bicyclists in their midst. That’s because as of Monday, the Norwottuck Rail Trail bridge over the Connecticut River was closed for long-awaited repairs as part of a $4 million, 8.5-mile trail reconstruction undertaken by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The project will revamp the much-used bicycle corridor that runs between the Elwell Recreation Area on Damon Road in Northampton and Station Road in Amherst.

The project is not shutting the entire path at one time; rather, sections of it are being closed as needed for the work to continue, then reopened when work is completed on a given portion.

This will mean that on certain sections of Route 9 between Northampton and Amherst, bicyclists will be joining the traffic flow as they are pushed off the sections of bike path.

This week, in order to redeck and repair the bridge, the bridge and the Damon Road parking lot in Northampton were closed — and are expected to remain closed for seven months.

For recreational cyclists, this is a disappointment, but no doubt they will find other beautiful pathways on which to bicycle, given the large and growing network of bike paths in the Pioneer Valley.

But for commuting bicyclists, this is a problem indeed. Some may choose to return to their cars. Route 9 can be intimidating, especially for less-experienced bike commuters. But for those who choose to stay on their bikes, the closing means that if they want to bike to work, they’ll likely make the trek on Route 9. It is important for everyone to know they have every right to be there.

Meanwhile, even as the bridge end of the path is closed for work, the 1.5-mile section of trail that extends from Cross Path Road to East Street in Hadley is expected to reopen in the middle of October. The section of path from East Street to South Maple Street will close around that time.

All of this opening and closing means there will be detours — and confusion. A bike path detour map is available on the town of Amherst’s website. Even for those who know the route well, hooking back up with the path after using Route 9 as an alternative to shuttered parts of the path is not easy, so some bike commuters may opt to stay on Route 9.

Again, they have every right to be there.

We encourage motorists to be patient, realizing that cyclists have a right to the road.

We encourage cyclists to be careful, realizing that though they have a right to be there, they are in the more vulnerable position. In this case, being safe is much more important than being right.

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