|By G. Michael Dobbs
According to the state’s Department of Transportation, 75,000 cars travel daily through downtown Springfield on Interstate 91 and its raised portion known as the viaduct. Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Nov. 19 that long-awaited repairs to the roadway have been funded.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Deval Patrick announced at the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield luncheon on Nov. 19 the state would invest $200 million in repairing the Interstate 91 viaduct – the raised portion of the highway going through the city.
Construction is slated to begin in November 2014. The project should take three years to complete.
In a second phase, the state will also begin a study that will determine if ultimately that section of Interstate 91 should be kept raised or brought back to street level as a means of better connecting the downtown to the riverfront.
“It’s a replacement project. It’s not just to prop it up, but also to make it new and modern and safe and efficient. It’s a great opportunity for the city and the region to think about how to design this project so it restores the connection between the downtown and the riverfront and knit together a couple of neighborhoods that were divided when the viaduct went up,” Patrick said after his address.
Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said although the word “realignment” was used to describe part of the mission of the study it really will be an evaluation to determine if the highway should be at “grade,” or street-level, or “below grade,” or underground, as it passes through the downtown.
“This is going to be potentially a world class change for the city,” Davey said. “So it’s a study but it’s really a public process.”
Davey explained that the part of the highway that cannot come down will be fixed and the study will address the part of the highway that could be altered and what “it would look like in the future.”
Patrick added, “This is a project that has been a long time in the making. It’s at the point or beyond the point where it needs to be. It’s not about a ‘want to do,’ it’s a ‘need to do.’ And it [is a] great opportunity to rethink downtown and its relationship to the riverfront, which I think is particularly exciting. The secretary will wince a little when I say this, but it’s conceivable phase one and phase two could happen alongside of each other in order to get to phase three faster.”
Making sure the entire project is funded is up to the citizens of the Commonwealth as well as making sure future administrations and legislatures finish it, Patrick noted. The governor said that funding for the Big Dig was made possible by “starving” projects such as the viaduct. He added there is a “big long list of unmet need outside of Greater Boston.”
Patrick had told the luncheon gathering one of his aims has been to reach “regional equity” when it comes to state resources and initiatives. Transportation issues have been important for economic development along with education, he explained.
Patrick spoke on the role that improving the transportation infrastructure has on the state’s economy. When asked about the possibility of proposal to link Hartford and New Haven, Conn., with Springfield with a new commuter rail line, Patrick said, “I do think that is a possibility. I think it’s made easier by the work that’s going into the track bed for The Vermonter to be ready.” Patrick was referring to the restoration of tracks that would bring the high speed Amtrak train “The Vermonter” back through Holyoke and Northampton, cutting time from the trip and serving more communities.
Patrick also announced state funding of $1.22 million for Camp STAR Angelina in Forest Park that will fund a new pool, bathhouse, trail and amphitheater improvements. The camp will be the universally designed day camp and park in Western Massachusetts.
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