This past Wednesday night, October 27, 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation hosted a “Capital Conversation” at Middlesex Community College in Lowell. The purpose of this and fifteen other sessions around the Commonwealth is to give the public a say in the development of massDOT’s Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2017-2021. Here’s how massDOT describes the Capital Improvement plan (CIP):
The CIP will serve as a multi-modal unified plan that identifies and prioritizes five years of capital projects for the Highway Division, the MBTA, statewide rail, transit, and aeronautics projects. Capital investments for the Registry of Motor Vehicles will also be included. Representatives from various MassDOT agencies, including the MBTA, will be on hand at the Capital Conversations to listen to comments and feedback from meeting participants.
My friend and neighbor Paul Early was able to attend Wednesday’s session and shared some observations:
After a brief introduction by a representative of massDOT, those in attendance were able to circulate through the room and speak directly with subject matter experts from DOT in areas such as highways, heavy rail, and aeronautics. Paul and others from Lowell went to the highway table and engaged the representative there in a discussion about the Lord Overpass.
According to the massDOT representative, it is the city of Lowell that controls the planning process for the Lord Overpass renovations and that the state agency has very little say in the design. The DOT rep seemed to suggest that if residents were dissatisfied by the process being used by the city that it might be possible to petition the state to create some kind of appellate process for concerned (and disappointed) citizens.
The subject of pedestrian crossing signals was also discussed. [Recall that there are two types of crossings: exclusive, which stops all traffic in all directions for pedestrians; and concurrent, which allows pedestrians to move at the same time as does the traffic on the road parallel to the sidewalk]. Paul and others (me included) have been left with the impression that the state mandates the use of exclusive pedestrian signals at certain intersections such as Bridge Street and the VFW Highway. The massDOT rep said that was not the case; that it is entirely up to the city to choose between exclusive or concurrent pedestrian signals at all intersections.
Paul inquired about massDOT support for rail service to New Hampshire. The answer did not leave him optimistic. The DOT rep said that the establishment of service with Rhode Island was much easier because Amtrak already maintained and used the rail lines necessary for that service so they were in relatively good shape. A link to New Hampshire lacks that kind of advantage. The DOT rep said that it might be necessary for New Hampshire to pay for some of the work on the Massachusetts rails if such a line ever to be established.
Paul also pointed out the MassDOT webpage that allows for public comment on any state transportation issues (or you can email email@example.com). Here’s what the DOT page says:
At MassDOT, we have some very smart people working on plans for future investments in the Commonwealth’s transportation system. But we also know that other people may have different and even better ideas about the best uses of our very limited transportation dollars. The more comments and suggestions we receive from you and other people who use our roads, rails, bike paths, airports, and walkways, the better we can together plan ways to make them all better.
What you tell us matters. By this winter, we will be releasing the draft of a five-year capital plan that will lay out priorities for transportation investments between 2017 and 2021. In the past, MassDOT has put out that plan and then waited for the public to respond. This time around, we are hearing from the public first, incorporating what you tell us into the capital plan before it is completed.
Please take a few minutes to describe your concerns and ideas for enhancing transportation opportunities in Massachusetts. Please feel free to locate and identify any specific transportation improvements, upgrades and enhancements you believe will help to provide sustainable growth and economic development opportunities for residents across the Commonwealth.