By Seth Daniel
Everett is on the map when it comes to the higher-ups in state transportation circles, at least that was the sense given by State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack in a speech to the Everett Chamber of Commerce on Thursday morning, March 31.
Pollack, whose family is from Everett and who was married in Everett, spoke at length to the Chamber and to City officials about overall state transportation efforts and detailed Everett initiatives.
“Transportation is at the heart about economic development,” she said. “Transportation works and functions as a network. Transportation is about connecting pieces and if the pieces don’t connect, transportation fails…We need to get away from single projects and get to thinking about investments. What we can try to do in the Commonwealth is re-imagine our capital spending as an investment portfolio instead of a collection of projects.”
To that end, she announced that she is in the process of approving a new, five-year capital spending plan of $73.5 billion. She said that will be the roadmap for going forward in places like Everett – where MBTA access is a challenge and roads like Rt. 99 (which is a local road) face massive problems. The plan should be ready for implementation on July 1.
“You can’t do a blip of fixing bridges and a blip of paving roads and a blip of fixing signals on the T and then just go away,” she said.
Though she said funding is now about five years away in most cases due to the cost of realigning and fixing the finances at the MBTA, she did highlight some major efforts already underway in Everett.
She said the regional working group around Sullivan Square long-term solutions has been coming together and is now working cooperatively with everyone around the table.
“The Lower Mystic Working Group is coming together and our role has been to bring all the parties to the table,” she said, noting that state agencies have been working with Boston, Everett and Somerville. “We can build a transportation model specifically for that area. We have a regional transportation model, but…we want a model that will bring all three communities and the Department of Transportation (DOT) together planning for the future of that area so we can talk about ideas before we put a model to work there.”
That’s contrary to previous efforts in that area where Boston made its own plan, Somerville made its own plan and Everett had a separate plan also. Many times, those plans contradicted one another once across City lines. This, she said, would be an opportunity for the three communities to bring together their plans in a cohesive way to make sure they work for everyone, including the state.
Another highlight for her was the Northern Strand Bike Path in Everett and the surrounding communities.
“We know that that young people want to live next to multi-use paths,” she said. “We see that in Everett. Direct connection to a bike path is designed to attract a certain tenant.”
She also highlighted the Everett Transit Action Plan, noting that Everett is one community taking advantage of early action within the state’s plan to restructure transportation.
“That is well underway,” she said, noting that there is a meeting on the effort April 13 at the Connolly Center. “We’re looking for partners who are looking to get started. The transit action plan in Everett has been a great partner and Everett is willing to consider these things. We will continue being a partner…Everett has been a good partner to consider changes to service without waiting until the full plan is done for the region.”
She said a lot of those things include changing bus routes, the frequency of bus routes and weekend service.
“The starting and ending places for these routes have been in place for decades,” she said.
Major changes, she said, would be about five years off, though. That’s because the number one priority in backlogs and deferred maintenance is at the MBTA – where she said they have made tremendous progress in the last year. She said they have spent significant money on capital improvements for the first time in several years – as the T’s capital improvement budget was used for operations.
Once that is righted, she said, more and more monies – state and federal – will be able to go towards new transportation projects such as expansion of the Silver Line and new MBTA stops in Everett.
“The proportions of spending all change as we make headway on the backlog,” she said. “As we decrease that first priority, we can shift those dollars to the second and third priorities. We have a five-year federal plan now so we know what our funding dollars are going to be. We didn’t have that until recently. It’s really an exciting time to do transportation planning because we have a handle on the backlog and we can see if we up the short-term investment, we can get to a manageable level and put dollars more into new things people want and need.”
In conclusion, she said she still has family in Everett, and they never let her forget about the MBTA taking away Everett Station and not returning it – leaving the City with only the Maintenance Barn.
“I sometimes get the cold shoulder from them for that, but Everett will always have a warm place in my heart,” she said.
State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack detailed the state of the State’s transportation program for the Everett Chamber of Commerce on Thursday morning, March 31.