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Key road projects part of $1.4b bill

Funding hinges on governor's OK

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Brian Benson
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2008

Millions of dollars worth of local projects aimed at improving road and pedestrian safety, alleviating congestion, and limiting highway noise were included in a $1.4 billion transportation bond bill approved by state legislators last week.

The projects include a new parking garage in Natick, improvements to Route 85 in Hudson, sound-barrier installation along Interstate 95 in Newton, and progress on replacing the Rockland Street Bridge in Wellesley.

Still, the funds for any of the projects are not official yet. Passed on the final day of the legislative session, the bond bill was sent on to Governor Deval L. Patrick, who has the ability to drop individual projects through a line-item veto. Patrick also must authorize the release of each appropriation before the money can be spent.

In Natick, town officials hope funding for two projects designed to ease commuting survives the approval process. The first, a parking garage at the West Natick commuter rail station, would be built by the MBTA with $7 million from the transportation bond bill.

"I think there is a serious lack of parking throughout the entire MBTA system, and there has been a large increase in ridership," said Natick's community development director, Patrick Reffett. "It's important that the T build parking facilities that meet the demands of the ridership."

Reffett said the train station's parking area is usually full by 7 a.m. on weekdays.

Meanwhile, Reffett is counting on the $1.5 million earmarked for improvements to Route 9's intersections with Route 27 and Oak Street to create a safer roadway.

The onramps "are the most accident-prone area in the town of Natick," he said. "The congestion is outrageous, and capacity and functional improvements need to happen at both of those intersections."

The bond bill also includes $500,000 for improvements to Route 9 between Southborough and Wellesley, and $10,000 for a traffic-control system along its Westborough stretch.

The state Highway Department is slated to receive $2 million in design and construction funding to replace the Rockland Street Bridge in Wellesley, said state Representative Alice Peisch.

"The bridge has been in dire need of replacement for a number of years," said the Wellesley Democrat. "Hopefully, this funding will be the last push to get it done."

In one of the larger appropriations for local projects, $17 million is earmarked for improvements on several roads in Newton and Needham, including the Needham Street and Highland Avenue corridor.

"It's one of our city's busiest commercial corridors," said Jeremy Solomon, spokesman for Newton Mayor David Cohen. "We have suffered through traffic issues for many, many years."

Plans call for widening the road to four lanes in places and improving sidewalks, crossings, and lighting, Solomon said.

"I certainly hope the state helps the community a lot by focusing on the congestion on Needham Street," said state Senator Cynthia Stone Creem. "It's very important that these projects get done or our roads will deteriorate."

Creem, a Democrat from Newton, said some of her constituents living near Interstate 95 and the Mass. Turnpike could see a reduction in traffic noise and pollution in their neighborhoods if $2 million for sound barriers along the two highways is approved by Patrick.

"It's a tremendous impact on local neighborhoods," Creem said. "The money is there but it's now up to the governor to get it done. He has indicated they are high on his priority list, so I'm hopeful they will get done."

Hudson is slated to receive $6 million to refurbish a 1-mile stretch of Route 85, from Technology Drive to Washington Street. The project would improve safety and business accessibility by straightening and widening the two-lane road and adding left- turn lanes, said Paul Blazar, the town's executive assistant.

The primary benefit of the bond bill, he said, "is that it will tackle transportation projects that are far too big for towns to tackle on their own, but are clearly necessary to maintain the infrastructure of the Commonwealth."

Downtown Ashland and Framingham are expecting more than $3 million to design a plan to eliminate railroad crossings and make other infrastructure improvements, said state Representative Tom Sannicandro, who represents Ashland and part of Framingham.

"They're quality-of-life issues," said Sannicandro, a Democrat from Ashland. "You just don't want to be sitting in traffic all the time waiting for the crossings and wasting gas."

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