State bond bill has money for parking garage, rail service

The state Senate gave its approval Thursday to a five-year, $13 billion transportation bond bill that includes money toward a new commuter rail service between Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield, as well as $5 million toward a new Greenfield parking garage and up to $300 million a year for Chapter 90 road projects in cities and towns.

The bond, which Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to sign, also provides $25 million for freight rail projects around the state, plus projects targeted for Orange, Warwick and Athol.

Although both House and Senate versions provide for $1.5 billion over five years, in Chapter 90 road projects for cities and towns, Patrick in the past has refused to authorize more than $200 million for the program, to which many smaller towns look to pay for large road projects and to pay for the bulk of their highway projects.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association, on its website this week, noted, “The release of the full $300 million Chapter 90 authorization continues to be a major issue of contention between the Legislature and the governor, with lawmakers siding with local officials in support of releasing the full amount.”

“Clearly, municipal leaders have succeeded in convincing representatives and senators of the need to increase Chapter 90 funding to $300 million a year,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith, “and that is a significant victory. Winning release of the full $300 million will continue to be a top priority for the MMA, and we will not cease until all of the funds flow directly to cities and towns.”

The inclusion of $55 million for increased passenger and freight rail improvements, which grew out of a 2009 New England Rail Summit that Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Northampton, helped organize, “is driven by the economic development and job growth potential of freight and passenger rail, and also by environmental concerns,” he said, calling its passage “a significant step in the right direction.”

The bond legislation also includes $3.2 million for repair of Route 78 in Warwick and $2 million toward purchasing, designing and constructing a $7 million scenic pedestrian river walk and bicycle pathway in Orange that will connect the town’s Riverfront Park to Alan E. Rich Environmental Park in Athol.

According to Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, the bond also provides $400,000 for replacement or removal of nonfunctioning electronic traffic signs along Route 2 in Athol and Phillipston.

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