BOSTON — The House of Representatives has passed a $12 billion Transportation Bond Bill that holds about $14 million for 11 projects in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury that would improve roads, expand rail trails and study the concept of a Merrimack River water shuttle linking the communities.
According to the office of state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, the bill, passed unanimously by the state House of Representatives, offers the chance of obtaining funds for projects that extend to 2019.
The projects come with no promises for it’s still in its early days in the legislative process. From the House, the bond bill heads to the Senate for debate and possible changes before state senators vote on it.
“I am committed to working on transportation investment projects and securing funding for those projects in the transportation bond bill once it is taken up in the Senate,” said Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport.
And, it won’t become law until it’s signed by Gov. Duval Patrick.
The bill includes a commitment of $300 million in Chapter 90, or local aid, funding by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo for local road and bridge repairs for fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1. According to Costello’s District Director Frederick Lucey, this aspect of the bill would allow communities to start planning for next fiscal year’s projects early.
The 11 local projects are intended to enhance public safety, ease of travel, and encourage economic growth in the three communities, according to Costello’s press release. Three local gateways are targeted, including Market Street in Amesbury, Storey Avenue in Newburyport, and North End Boulevard in Salisbury. The Storey Avenue improvements will follow the “Complete Streets” policy concept enabled in this legislation, ensuring convenient travel and access for all modes of transportation.
The “Complete Street” initiative provides accommodations for walking, cycling, public transportation, private vehicles and freight carriers, according to the press release. Lucey said the idea behind Complete Street is to make the major gateways — such as Storey Avenue — “more welcoming to those who use them.”
The bill holds $1.5 million for the design and construction of Complete Streets improvements on Route 113/Storey Avenue in Newburyport and $1.25 million for the design and reconstruction of the Route 150 historic gateway on Market Street to Main Street in Amesbury.
If passed, this piece of legislation would also focus money on a number of rail trail projects over the next five years, completing the 24-mile Coastal Trails Coalition Network in the three communities.
“Representative Costello has been committed to the rail trail (initiative) since 2004 or 2005,” Lucey said. “This is the final phase to make the trails complete,” Lucey said.
In funding for rail, or recreation, trails, the House version of the bill includes $1.5 million for the Clipper City Rail Trail Phase III link design and construction from Parker Street to the Newburyport MBTA Station; $1.8 million for the Powow River Rail Trail link from Rocky Hill Road to Elm Street in Amesbury, and $1.5 million for the Interstate 95 Ghost Rail Trail underpass connector from Rabbit Road in Salisbury to Elm Street in Amesbury.
Not part of the Interstate 95 widening project, Lucey said, the proposed connector will pursue options to connect the end of Salisbury’s Ghost Trail to Amesbury. Although some of the land along the old railroad bed that passes under I-95 is privately held by members of Amesbury’s Ouellet family, Lucey said no deal has been agreed to utilize that land.
“Everyone is very sensitive to the wishes of Ouellet family,” Lucey said. “But options are also being looked at to put the rail trail on state-owned land in the area. This is a project that would be slated for 2016 or 2017.”
A $75,000 study for the planning for the Merrimack River water shuttle is in the House version of the transportation funding bill in conjunction with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Lucey said the idea being investigated would be part of a future Newburyport inter-modal transportation nexus that would include a garage and bike stands, along with the possibility of a ferry transporting individuals between the communities of Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury.
Lucey said this is not a move to have the state run a water transportation vehicle. It’s expected that a private operator would offer the ferry service, Lucey said. The public money sought in the bond bill would conduct a study to provide guidance from the experts on such an undertaking, he said.
The bill would also spend $700,000 to replace/restore historic ironwork railings on Route 1, at High, Winter, Washington, and Summer Streets in Newburyport. The railings were first installed in 1934, Lucey said, and are nicer than the current standard used by the state Department of Transportation for railings. The money would spotlight the historic nature of the rusty railings, giving MassDOT the ability to provide facsimiles to maintain the feel of the area.
The bill currently carries $4.8 million in funding for Salisbury projects, $3.6 of which is targeted for 2017 to 2019, and would be in junction with the hoped-for revitalization of Salisbury Beach. Some $2.4 million would go for the design and resurface with sidewalks for Route 1A from Beach Road to Route 286, known as North End Boulevard in Salisbury. Another $1.2 million would underwrite a study of drainage issues that plague Beach Road (Route 1A) at County Road, which regularly floods during storms closing the roadway. This money would also pay for the design, permit, and resurfacing of the segment of state highway.
And $1.2 million would offer drainage work and the resurfacing of Route 1, or Bridge Road, from the Gillis Bridge over the Merrimack River to School Street, at the entrance of Salisbury Square.
In addition to other infrastructure projects applicable to Amesbury, the bond bill includes a $1 million for access stairs or ramp and parking to the Interstate 95 Whittier Bridge shared-use path at Carriage Town’s Main Street.