Millions coming to Massachusetts for roadway infrastructure projects
First tranche of funding from bipartisan infrastructure law is announced
Springfield, MA, December 22, 2021 | Paul Tuthill, WAMC Northeast Public Radio
The first installment of money from the federal bipartisan infrastructure law is being distributed to the states with Massachusetts in line to receive more than $800 million.
The members of all-Democratic Massachusetts Congressional delegation, in a joint statement, applauded the announcement from the Federal Highway Administration that the money is on its way to be used for projects including highway performance improvements, bridge repair, and expanding pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure.
Congressman Richard Neal of the Massachusetts 1st District said a gradual decline in federal spending has left the country’s infrastructure in “pretty bad” shape.
“Many of us have pushed for this for a long long period of time and think it is a reasonable policy that is fully vetted,” Neal said in an interview with WAMC.
State transportation officials have said there is a shelf full of significant projects this money could be spent on.
Neal, the Springfield Democratic who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said when it comes to MassDOT doling out the dollars he’ll insist on “regional equity.”
“I’ve already made it clear in conversations with Gov. Baker that this will not be a Boston-centric initiative,” Neal said, adding, “He agrees with me.”
He said cities and towns should have a say in how the federal infrastructure dollars are spent.
“I think the best way to handle this is from the bottom up …to make sure that those initiatives that are most in need of investment are at the top of the list,” Neal said.
Discussions have already started in Springfield.
In anticipation of a large influx in federal cash, the Springfield City Council’s Maintenance and Development Committee held a meeting earlier this year to discuss infrastructure priorities. The chair of the committee, Councilor Kateri Walsh said the federal funds could go a long way to tackle the city’s backlog of street and sidewalk repairs.
“Sidewalks and roads, we’re very interested in that,” she said.
Springfield DPW Director Chris Cignoli said it is unknown what mechanism the state will use for assigning the funds to local projects.
“My hope would be that we would get money that would be almost like a unrestricted grant that we could use for what we need on the infrastructure side,” he said.
As for how the money could be spent, Cignoli said the city has a capital projects plan that is updated annually.
“Obviously roadways,” he said. “I probably have 15 or 20 problem intersections that are in dire need of some upgrade.”
In addition to roadway improvements, Cignoli said the capital projects list includes upgrades to drainage and flood protection.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman said street light replacement should be another priority.
“This is an opportunity to have a conversation about upgrading our street lights to LEDs,” he said. “We are the only large city in Massachusetts that has not made that transition. It is a public safety issue and a neighborhood quality of life issue.”
Lederman called for an audit of lighting across the city. He also said the infrastructure funds could be used for a municipal broadband network.