|MassDOT Secretary Praises Massive Road Reconstruction in Dalton|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
02:01PM / Friday, July 21, 2017
|MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack joined local MassDOT and elected officials to get an update on the $10.5 million reconstruction project.|
Pollack praised the adoption of a Complete Streets design in the project. The secretary says she wants road projects to include bicycle lanes and renovated sidewalks to accommodate all modes of transportation.
DALTON, Mass. — MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack says the massive $10.5 million reconstruction of East Housatonic Street is a perfect example of what the state wants to see.
The project has been in the works for years and finally began construction in March 2016. It is on pace to be completed in October, with punch list items being completed in the spring.
It entails everything the state Department of Transportation would like to see in a road project.
"The investment we are making and Dalton is making together is going to mean that a road that was in really bad shape and needed to be fixed for a very long time is now getting fixed. When it is done, it is really done. The road is better, the sidewalk is better, the drainage was terrible and homeowners who lived on the street were getting water running off our road and into their property," Pollack said on Friday after touring the construction site.
State and federal funds were used for the road and sidewalk portion of the project, while the town put up funds to redo the drainage system underneath, install new water lines, and extend the sewer system while the road was dug up. Pollack said after a massive road reconstruction, it is difficult to go back in and dig it all up to add the underground infrastructure later, so coordinating that to be done during the project is key to making sure it is done right.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said he's been working with the town for years to tackle the needs on the 1.9-mile stretch of roadway.
"This is an important thoroughfare and there are a lot of businesses on this road, including Crane Paper. There is a lot of truck traffic, there are a lot of people who use it as a short cut — I used to use it as a short cut a lot until the construction started — but it has been a project that has been a long time in the works," Mark said.
The project also incorporates MassDOT's Complete Streets concept. The state has placed a greater emphasis on building roads that include bicycle lanes and sidewalks to accommodate all forms of transportation.
"When we build transportation infrastructure, we really need to think about everyone who is using it. The majority of people who are going to use a road like this are in fact going to be in a car. But there are families who live here, their kids are going to school down there, those kids are going to be walking," Pollack said.
Pollack says if highway engineers can't find a way to add those pieces to the design, then the project needs her personal approval.
"Our design engineers, if they have a project that they really think that they can't, I, as the secretary, actually sign off on every case we don't do pedestrian and bicycle to push us to think outside of the box, can we find a way?" Pollack said.
Dalton received a $400,000 grant from the state's Complete Streets program. Pollack said the grant program is designed to pay the extra costs of sidewalks and bicycle lanes for the towns when a municipality is looking at its own reconstruction projects.
Coming up with the funding for the East Housatonic project was difficult, and was the type of project that tends to get continually pushed back. The funding for it came from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is in charge of programming projects with federal resources on an annual basis.
Only about $8 million is received for the entire county per year. The MPO used two years of funding to complete the Dalton project, limiting the number of other Berkshire County projects that could be done.
"It is tough out here in the Berkshires because the allocations to the MPOs are small so a project like this literally costs more than the entire annual amount the MPO has to spend. We know that is a problem, we don't know if we have a solution to it," Pollack said.
But what she is doing is looking to make a better process in setting priorities. The department is currently crafting new ways to objectively compare projects fighting for funds to spend the money in the way Pollack believes gets the best results.
"We've been building infrastructure in Massachusetts for 300, 400 years and we are not going to fix all of it in five. I think we are lucky, in one of the rare acts of bipartisanship in Congress, they did pass a new multi-year federal funding proposal. It did increase the amount of money that flows to the states and the MPOs and it is also for six years," Pollack said.
Mark said the upcoming ballot initiative on the Fair Share Amendment is going to be critical to providing enough funds to make more road repairs. That initiative would increase taxes on millionaires and the additional revenue would go to education and transportation.
"That's our opportunity to get more money for transportation and education projects. That is a great opportunity to get money available for projects here in the Berkshires," Mark said.
For years, the complaint from the Berkshires has been that more funds go to the eastern part of the state. State Sen. Adam Hinds said Pollack understands the issues in the Berkshires and he is hopeful that will be addressed.
"It is great to have the secretary here to show her that there is a disconnect between the need for investments in transportation and the amount of funding that is coming to the towns, that are already strapped with their budgets. She recognizes this issues and pointed to a number of projects to address it," Hinds said.
The senator said "roads and bridges are top priorities for municipalities when it comes to strains on their budgets and increasing needs" and he specifically cited bridges.
Pollack said it was made abundantly clear when she visited the area in 2015 that there were many bridges spanning less than 20 feet that were too costly to repair with Chapter 90 funds but were too small to qualify for federal funding. Her department developed the Small Bridge Project, which the Legislature funded at $50 million, to help complete renovations to the numerous small bridges throughout the state.
"This is actually the part of the state this program is for and we will be able to do those grants, a couple rounds of grants for five years," she said.
Pollack said another one of her goals is to find ways to lower the engineering and design costs. She will be looking at programs in others states and hopes that instead of engineering being required for every single bridge, there could be standardized designs. She believes that could reduce the money spent on engineering and design and put more toward construction each year.