Gov. Charlie Baker signs transportation bond act; bill includes money for east-west rail project, Bridge of Flowers and more

Joined by the town administrator from rural Buckland, Gov. Charlie Baker hosted a virtual ceremonial signing Wednesday for the $16 billion transportation bond act passed last month just as the legislative session was ending. The bond act authorizes as much as $50 million for east-west rail. The money could be used to begin design and other preliminary work on a proposed transformative public works project with an estimated price tag of $2.4 billion and $4.6 billion.

Boosters of an east-west commuter rail line linking Pittsfield and Springfield with Boston have criticized the Baker administration for a perceived lack of enthusiasm for the rail project. They point to a state study completed this year that they feel underestimates the potential ridership.

But the project has backers, including U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, a Springfield Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Neal wants to include funding in the Biden administration’s upcoming infrastructure recovery package. Other supporters include state Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, the Boston City Council, MassMutal CEO Roger Crandall, as well as U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, and the state’s two U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

Lesser has said the bond bill doesn’t spend any money; it authorizes the state to issue bonds and borrow money if the project moves forward.

The proposed rail service would run from Pittsfield to Springfield, Worcester and on to Boston, linking the lower cost housing options in western and central Massachusetts with the burgeoning Boston job market.

Also included in the bill, Baker said, is $70 million for the state’s small bridge and culvert replacement program and $100 million for repairs to state-numbered local roads. “Which no one thinks belong to anybody and consequently are among the roads that are in the worst shape,” Baker said.

Lt Gov. Karyn Polito said the bond bill puts $20 million into the shared streets and spaces program used to promote outdoor dining and shopping during the pandemic.

“How do we help you local restaurants and shops,” Polito said. “It turned into fabulous places for entertainment in local communities.”

The bill also includes earmarks for a host of other Springfield-area projects, including:

  • $12.5 million for the intersection at Belmont Avenue and Dickinson Street in Springfield;
  • $7.5 million for Springfield’s Riverside Road;
  • $1.5 million for the intersection of Pease Avenue and Morgan Road in West Springfield;
  • $3 million toward fixing roads and bikeways in Springfield Forest Park neighborhood;
  • $1.5 million for improvements to the State Street entrance of the Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway in Springfield;
  • $2.5 million toward for tunnel repairs and other upgrades on Birnie Avenue in Springfield. The tunnel runs under Interstate 91, connecting neighborhoods to the Gerena Community School.

In Buckland, town administrator Heather Butler said she would get off the call and promptly inform five households in Nilman Road that they are getting a new culvert. The bond bill includes $625,000 toward the $700,000 project.

The bill also includes $2 million for the towns of Buckland and Shelburne for repairs to the famous Bridge of Flowers.