State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey is pressing the Massachusetts Senate to approve a transportation bond bill as a new construction season approaches. The $12.7 billion bond bill approved earlier this month in a unanimous vote in the Massachusetts House includes funding for some long-sought projects in western Massachusetts.
The transportation finance legislation includes initial funding for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to build a new maintenance and operations facility to replace a 100-year-old former trolley barn that the administrator of the authority says is obsolete and too small to service modern buses.
PVTA administrator Mary MacInnes said the $72 million project has also been included in a five-year master plan that was recently approved by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors.
" What I am attempting to do is move the funding up. Right now most is at the end of the five year plan and we need it to start in the next fiscal year."
The authority has purchased an industrial site about five miles east of downtown Springfield to build a 308,000 square foot building. The current bus maintenance facility, located in the north end of downtown Springfield is 37,000 square feet.
" We have the good fortune to have a federal grant to use this year to keep the project moving along. For example the first order of business is to deal with the asbestos in the building currently on the site which we much demolish. So that work will continue."
MacInnes said the PVTA has developed a comprehensive plan to improve and expand bus service which will be paid for by a $4 million boost in state funding to support annual operating expenses. That planned expansion – the first for the PVTA in more than a decade – will be the subject of public hearings this spring with a rollout to the new service expected in the fall.
" If we can improve frequencies, make service more direct it will be attractive for more people to ride. So we really feel we are going to dramatically increase ridership."
The PVTA is the largest regional transit authority in the state with service in 24 communities in Hampden and Hampshire counties including Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Amherst. There were more than 11 million riders last year. Ridership has increased by 2 million over the last decade.
The bond bill would also provide a boost to rail service by supporting construction of a covered platform for passengers in Holyoke. That is one of three rail stops being built for a new high-speed rail line in Massachusetts.
When the Amtrak Vermonter starts traveling on the upgraded track it will be able to reach speeds of up to 70 miles-per-hour. The travel time through Massachusetts will be reduced by half an hour. Ridership is expected to increase, according to Dana Roscoe, a principle planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
The bond bill approved by the House authorizes $300 million in so-called Chapter 90 funding for cities and towns to complete road, bridge and other transportation improvement projects.
Sec. Davey, in a letter to Senate leaders, said contracts have been awarded for 51 projects totaling $261 million, but work cannot begin until the legislature authorizes the borrowing.