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Neal champions climate initiatives with $54 million grant to PVTA

Congressman and Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means Richard Neal announced a $54 million Federal Transit Authority (FTA) grant to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) during an Oct. 18 press conference at the PVTA’s 655 Cottage St. facility. The grant derives from the FTA’s Low-Emission and No-Emission and Bus/Bus Facilities Grant programs included in President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

“This was the most important piece of legislation coming from a legislative body to address climate change in the world,” said Neal while referencing elements of the infrastructure bill.

Neal made the announcement alongside Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan. The grant funding is matched by a 20 percent contribution from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to make for a total award of $67.5 million for the PVTA.

“This award allows PVTA the opportunity to expand the projects that reduce energy consumption and increase access to clean and efficient transit. It is consistent with the goals of the commonwealth, as well as the Pioneer Valley region, to improve air quality and reduce emissions by 2050,” said Sheehan.

The grant funding focuses on the further electrification of the PVTA’s public transportation operations. Sheehan shared that upgrades include the purchase of four battery-electric buses along with new infrastructures, such as additional charging stations, to maintain the electric vehicles. The PVTA will also be dedicating awarded funds towards workforce development training as their staff adjusts to working with engine-less, diesel-free vehicles.

Currently, the PVTA possesses a fleet of 12 battery-electric buses. Sheehan envisions the transportation organization eventually adopting a full fleet of battery-electric buses.

“This will allow PVTA to continue on our path toward electrifying our fleet … This is phase one of the electrification of the Cottage Street operations and maintenance facility here in Springfield,” said Sheehan.

Additionally, some of the awarded funds center on repairs and upgrades to the bus bays at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Bus Maintenance Facility. Sheehan aspires for the funding to improve the safety and service ability of that facility.

Neal considered the funding a “revolutionary step for helping to address climate change at the local level.” The congressman envisions battery-electric technology being a “major component” in aiding the country’s gradual movement toward climate change initiatives.

“Electrifying these buses is a big, big achievement … I am big believer in this idea that battery-powered storage is going to be a major component of the answer America is going to offer as it addresses climate change,” said Neal.

He also stressed the importance of continuously improving and maintaining public transportation offerings.

“The reliability of public transportation is essential for all of us,” said Neal.

In his address, Sarno highlighted how the award coincides with Springfield’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan, which focuses on incorporating green energy initiatives to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Springfield celebrated progress with that plan on Oct. 5 with the announcement of an over 25 percent reduction in energy usage for the city’s municipal and school buildings.

Sarno considered the emphasis on battery-electric technology to be an effective platform for modernizing the PVTA’s transportation efforts.

“[It’s] a balanced, reasonable and sensible approach on bringing in climate change, what we can do to help out with our energy and balancing with our fossil fuels. This is a big, big step here,” said Sarno.
The press conference concluded with a tour of the Cottage Street facility’s bus bay and battery-charging stations.

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