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$13B bond bill has money for trains, road work

A five-year, $13 billion Transportation Bond Bill approved by the Senate this week includes millions in funding for projects in Orange, Warwick and for rail improvements that could provide for commuter train service between Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield.

Differences between approved House and Senate versions of the transportation bond, which also would help pay $5 million for Greenfield’s parking garage, must be reconciled by a conference committee before the final package goes to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature.

A $30 million section of the bond to buy and refurbish MBTA rail cars for passenger train service in the Pioneer Valley could be used to start a commuter service that Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said would need to be funded as part of the state’s operating budget.

“Clearly there has been sustained interest in improving rail service in New England and throughout the Northeast corridor,” said Rosenberg, who had also helped secure $25 million for improved freight service in western Massachusetts. “That interest is driven by the economic development and job growth potential of freight and passenger rail, and also by environmental concerns. Our challenge has always been to secure adequate funding for our projects.”

Rosenberg called inclusion of rail service — approved in both House and Senate versions — “a significant step in the right direction. I am excited about the future of rail in our region.”

The Transportation Bond also includes investments of more than $11 million in several of Rosenberg’s other priorities for western Massachusetts: $3.2 million for the repair of Route 78 in Warwick and $2 million for a scenic pedestrian river walk and bicycle pathway in Orange.

The pathway, a $7 million project connecting Orange’s Riverfront Park to Alan E. Rich Environmental Park in Athol, would travel along the Millers River as much as possible and would require access to a trestle bridge along the route, according to state Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange.

Andrews said she was not able to secure funding in the bond bill for the Warwick road project and has written a support letter to the conference committee calling for it to be included.

Both versions of the transportation bond also commit $1.5 billion over five years, or $300 million a year, for Chapter 90 road projects for cities and towns.

Cities and towns have been pressing for months for that funding, which many smaller towns look to pay for large road projects on eligible roads, and also to pay for the bulk of their highway projects. Even though the state had approved a 50 percent hike in Chapter 90 funding last year, the governor refused to release the additional $300 million a year, saying he didn’t think the state could afford it.

Rosenberg said both House and Senate versions are for essentially the same total dollar amount, although each version has some smaller projects that were not included in the other, requiring reconciliation by the six-member conference panel.

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