Public invited to comment on planned Berkshires infrastructure projects

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PITTSFIELD — A two-week road show by the state Department of Transportation will reach the Berkshires on Tuesday.

MassMassDOT is holding public meetings around the state to explain how it plans to proceed on big-ticket construction projects through 2022.

Projects include all types of transportation capital improvements, from airports and railroads to roads and bridges.

The session will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the MassDOT's District 1 headquarters at 270 Main St. in Lenox.

Representatives of the MassDOT will outline the most recent updates in their five-year capital planning. Officials also will answer questions from the public and take comments.

According to the MassDOT, the projects aim first to improve the reliability of the state's transportation network, followed by steps to modernize and expand it.

To that end, 56 percent of $17.4 billion in capital investments planned in the next five years seek to improve reliability. About a fifth of that spending would update existing transportation infrastructure.

In a message on the MassDOT's website, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack notes, "Overall, only 13 percent of this ... has been set aside for the physical expansion of the transportation system."

None of the top projects listed by the MassDOT are located in Berkshire County. However, state spending comes into the region through transportation aid to cities and towns and through the "Complete Streets" program and in grants for bridge repairs.

In the rail category, the state will spend to expand service south of Boston. Major rail projects will reach only as far west as the Pioneer Valley, where the state lists work on the I-91 "Knowledge Corridor" service and in finishing renovation of Springfield's Union Station.

Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said the session allows the state to present its latest views on how state and federal money will be spent on transportation improvements.

He said the MassDOT appears to be working to improve its communication with the public.

"MassMassDOT is committed to engaging members of public and stakeholders across the Commonwealth throughout the process," according to the MassDOT website.

In all, 12 public meetings will be held around the state, wrapping up Wednesday.

Just because a transportation project appears on the list doesn't mean it will receive funding.

"As a state and nation, we are critically underfunding all of our infrastructure," Karns said in a recent interview with The Eagle. "And it is now fast approaching the end of its design life."

Top changes

In this year's update, the state is allocating $25 million for improvements at airport administration buildings, up from $13.8 million, due to the "poor state of legacy buildings." Typically, that funding is augmented heavily by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The state also added $68 million to pave roads that are not interstate highways, removing $57.5 million from the interstate highway allocation to speed repairs on local and secondary roads.

One change related to interstate highways pushed up spending in this fiscal year: work to shift to all-electronic tolling on the Mass Turnpike.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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