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CMRPC gets an earful at transportation planning summit

By Rod Lee

All the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) had to do was give Bill Perry a forum on the region’s transportation future during a public meeting at the offices of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce in the Linwood Mill in Whitinsville on October 30th. The outspoken Mr. Perry took it from there.

Todd M. Fontanella, who is transit manager for the CMRPC, had no sooner finished presenting a slide show on a document related to long-term transportation planning being developed by the Central MA Metropolitan Planning Organization (CMMPO)—“Mobility 2040”—than Mr. Perry weighed in; his comments made all the more conspicuous by the slim turnout of only a handful of people for the gathering.

Long associated with bicycles and horses in the Blackstone Valley but now a resident of Milford, Mr. Perry chose not to talk about roads and bridges as might have been expected but rather the lack of attention paid to “bicycling, the New England Trunk Line Trail” and by extension the Blackstone Valley Bikeway (which is ultimately earmarked to run from Worcester to northern Rhode Island).

"Cities in other countries are more friendly to bikes,” Mr. Perry. “There are electric bikes in Rome” for getting around. In calling for clearly delineated “lanes” for bicycles, Mr. Perry mentioned a daughter who is a nurse in New York City. “Children can use sidewalks to ride bikes until the age of twelve, then they have to use the streets,” he said.

At the outset of the meeting, which was hosted by the BVCC’s Jeannie Hebert, Mr. Fontanella noted that the latest in a series of information-gathering sessions is part of a “community-intensive process of setting pertinent goals and targets and reporting to our state partners.” The original Mobility 2040 document was adopted in 2015 and is now being updated, he said. The new plan is scheduled to take effect in October of 2019.

The seven objectives of the planning process, Mr. Fontanella said, are to 1) reduce congestion and improve mobility; 2) improve safety and security; 3) achieve a state of road repair; 4) increase transportation options and promote healthy modes; 5) reduce greenhouse gases and promote sustainability; 6) provide equitable transportation; and 7) promote economic vitality and the movement of freight.

“There is no lack of good ideas,” he said, “but the challenge is in matching these up with available funds. The bulk of the money allocated in the original Mobility 2040 was for infrastructure maintenance.” The new document, he said, is intended to be “a multi-modal plan that meets the needs of urban and suburban” and that will be implemented in “five-year funding bands.”

Surprisingly, upon Mr. Fontanella’s call for input, there was not a single mention of such perpetually hit-upon pet peeves as occasionally bottlenecked traffic at Boston Road and Rt. 146 in Sutton or seemingly never-ending work being done on the W. Main St. exit on both sides of Rt. 146 in Millbury. This accorded Mr. Perry a chance to dominate the conversation with the state’s failure to complete a bike path.

“We have been talking about a bikeway for thirty-five years and it never gets off the dime,” he said. “We spend millions for bridges and roads.” In addressing this complaint, Ms. Hebert said that “conservation land in Sutton” that cannot be violated is part of the reason for what is now being referred to as a Blackstone Valley “Greenway” not having been extended much beyond its start point at the new Worcester Visitor Center and into Millbury and that previously “Mass Highway was in charge and used the money for bridges and roads.”

With the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) “taking over” responsibility for what happens next, the hope is for progress. “But we haven’t heard anything in a while,” Ms. Hebert said.

“Maybe it’s time to shake the tree again,” Mr. Perry said.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.