October 2, 2022

Senate Passes Wide-Ranging Transportation Infrastructure Bond Bill And Amendments To Address Transportation Needs In The Bristol & Norfolk District

Bill authorizes more than $10 billion to improve transportation across the Commonwealth

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(Boston – 07/18/2022) The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed legislation that authorizes more than $10.84 billion in bonds for a wide array of transportation infrastructure projects and initiatives to make the Commonwealth’s transportation system more modern, safe, environmentally sound, and accessible. An Act relative to Massachusetts transportation resources and climate, also known as MassTRAC, ensures that Massachusetts is well-positioned to compete for federal grant opportunities, particularly those dollars available from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Our roads need some serious work, the MBTA has glaring deficiencies, and the public transportation network just isn’t accessible to many in the Commonwealth,” said State Senator Paul R. Feeney (D-Foxborough). This has been and will continue to be a focus for me through the rest of this session and beyond. The passage of this Transportation Bond Bill is not only a down-payment on the safety and wellbeing of the State’s transportation infrastructure, but a key vehicle to bolster our state economy and support local businesses. The authorizations included in this bill position the Commonwealth well to compete against other States for federal funding made possible by President Biden’s infrastructure bill in the months and years ahead.”

The MassTRAC bill invests billions of dollars in improving, maintaining, and modernizing the Commonwealth’s bridges, roads, and other critical infrastructure, including sidewalks, curbs, parking spaces, and airport improvements. The legislation also takes crucial steps to make the state’s transportation system more environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change by making investments in emission reduction, low or no emission vehicles for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs), climate adaptations for Massachusetts roads, and support for multimodal transportation such as bike lanes alongside roads. Building on the Drive Act, passed by the Senate in April this year, the MassTRAC bill increases support for electric vehicles for personal, commercial, and governmental use, as well as for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The breakdown of the bond authorizations included in the bill is as follows:

· $3.5 billion for discretionary federal grant projects
· $2.8 billion for federal highway systems projects
· $1.375 billion for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) modernization
· $1.27 billion for non-federally aided roads and bridges
· $407.7 million for local and regional transportation projects
· $400 million for MBTA safety projects
· $275 million for the East-West rail project
· $225 million for emissions reduction initiatives, including $50 million to support access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure
· $114 million for airport improvements
· $85 million for state-numbered routes road pavement improvements
· $82 million for the industrial rail access program
· $64.9 million for Regional Transit Authorities’ (RTAs) capital projects
· $25.5 million for the mobility assistance program
· $25 million for municipal road pavement improvements
· $20 million for the Complete Streets program
· $10 million for the public realm improvement program
· $1 million for local and regional transportation projects

The legislation marks another step towards implementing East-West passenger rail in Massachusetts. In addition to the more than a quarter of a billion dollars that is granted for the project itself, this legislation creates a commission to investigate and report on creation of an East-West rail passenger authority. To promote regional equity and smart, sustainable financing of the transportation system, the bill creates a mobility commission to investigate, study, and make recommendations on the development of regionally equitable transportation pricing, roadway pricing and congestion pricing.

In addition to $1.375 billion for modernization of the MBTA, the bill authorizes $400 million for MBTA safety projects and tasks the MBTA with creating and annually updating safety improvement plans.

During the debate several notable amendments were adopted. Significantly, one amendment would create a low-income fare program to provide free or discounted transit fares to qualifying riders. Another amendment would require the MBTA to develop and implement short-, medium-, and long-term plans for electrifying the commuter rail fleet. Finally, an amendment was adopted to provide regulatory oversight for electronic bicycles, or e-bikes, to help spur their adoption.

Regional Amendments Filed by Senator Feeney and Included in the Senate Bill:
To address some of the specific transportation needs of the Bristol & Norfolk District, Senator Feeney filed three amendments worth $10 million to this bond bill that were each favorably adopted and included in the Senate’s final bill.

Senator Feeney’s amendment #35 was adopted to provide $4,000,000 for the design and installation of traffic control improvements, including potential temporary and permanent median barriers, and increased signalization from Route 1 in Walpole to the Rhode Island border in Attleboro. Current conditions on the roadway have caused serious safety issues for both vehicles and pedestrians, and improvements are long overdue according to Feeney. “I am hopeful that the Governor and his administration will recognize the hazards that exist along this stretch and use this authorization as a catalyst to spend the money and do the work forthwith,” said Feeney.

Amendment #36 was also filed by Senator Feeney and adopted by his colleagues to provide $1,000,000 for a study of engineering, constructing and maintaining a noise abatement barrier along Interstate-495 adjacent to the South Grove, Grove Street neighborhood in the town of Foxborough. This neighborhood is a residential area next to the highway which has endured loud, consistent traffic noise and disruption to quality of life. The flow of traffic and noise pollution has also resulted in several accidents and vibrations to the surrounding homes resulting in cracked ceilings. “We have many areas in our region that have to deal with increasing noise and “Jake-braking” from 95 and 495, however the State is slow to address any of them,” said Feeney. “This bond authorization should be a signal to the administration that we will not go away or continue to wait decades for them to fulfill their responsibility to the residents along these highways. I have walked these areas and have experienced the loud, often teeth-shattering noise. Families shouldn’t have to deal with that on a regular basis.”

Lastly, Senator Feeney filed amendment #67 to provide $5,000,000 for the design, rehabilitation, construction, safety improvements, accessibility upgrades, rest room construction, landscaping, paving and reopening of the rest area and facility located on Interstate 95 in the town of Mansfield. This site, which is the first such rest area for travelers entering the State from the south on I-95, is currently closed and in a state of disrepair. Feeney, in working with his colleagues in the House delegation as well as local officials and organizations, envisions a welcoming facility and open space that hosts electric vehicle charging stations, safe and comfortable restrooms, well-lit parking spots, snack and beverage vending, and kiosks that provide information and details to travelers about local tourist destinations, businesses and restaurants within the surrounding communities. “Right now, the building is closed, shuttered, and falling apart and port-a-potties are lined up next to litter and construction debris. The place looks disgusting and, I’m embarrassed that this is the first stop for travelers as they enter Massachusetts,” said Feeney. “This funding will convert the site to a Regional Visitor Information Center to properly greet visitors and residents as they enter the Commonwealth and head off to shop at local businesses and visit destinations like The Xfinity Center, TPC Golf Course, Gillette Stadium, Plainridge Casino, and other regional attractions. We shouldn’t have to fight this hard for something that should be common sense, but the Representatives and I will continue to look for every legislative vehicle possible to get this site fixed up.”

A version of this legislation having previously been passed in the House of Representatives, a conference committee will now be appointed to reconcile any differences between the versions of this bill. Bond bills are strictly legislative authorizations for the Commonwealth to borrow for the purposes contained in the legislation, however the final appropriations are decided by the Governor.

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