Boston- On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved its version of the transportation bond bill, a comprehensive $1.38 billion plan for much needed upgrades to the state’s transportation infrastructure. State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D - Pittsfield) secured $7.8 million in the T-bond for transportation projects throughout his Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin Senate District.
“One of the greatest responsibilities of state government is to ensure the safety and integrity of our public transportation systems,” said Downing. “This bond provides the financing for long-awaited and necessary improvements to our roads, bridges, airports and railways so each one is safe for travelers, commuters and commerce.”
The T-bond authorizes MassHighway to establish a Small Town Rural Assistance Program (STRAP) to assist towns with populations with 7,000 or less when undertaking projects to design, construct, reconstruct, widen, resurface, rehabilitate and otherwise improve roads and bridges, or for the construction of chemical storage facilities. The STRAP program will provide grant funding up to $500,000 and towns will be eligible to receive one grant every 5 fiscal years. Under the provisions of the bill, a local match is no longer required to receive STRAP assistance.
The bill also establishes forward funding for the state’s Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs), a priority of the Legislative Caucus on RTAs, of which Downing serves as a member. Forward funding will change the budgeting practices of these entities, allowing RTAs to pay for their operating expenses in the current fiscal year, instead of relying on bonded or borrowed funds and paying back high interest charges in the following years.
Downing secured authorizations for the following local projects in the transportation bond:
- $3 million for the reconstruction of the Berkshire Mall Road in Lanesborough
- $2.5 million for the runway expansion project at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport
- $1 million for a Lee’s Main Street economic development project
- $750,000 for the resurfacing of roads in the City of North Adams
- $500,000 for the study, design or construction of a 1.5 mile extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, south to Crane Avenue in Pittsfield.
- $300,000 to study the feasibility of updating and extending rail lines from New Milford, Connecticut to Pittsfield via the Berkshire-New York Rail Connector.
The bill is now before the House of Representatives for further action.