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Foxborough

No state funds for bridge by stadium

Project passed over a 2d time

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / December 4, 2011
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Contrary to local hopes, there isn’t likely to be a handy, safer way to cross busy Route 1 in Foxborough any time soon.

A proposal to use public money to build an $8 million pedestrian footbridge linking properties owned by The Kraft Group on either side of the busy highway has been rejected for the second time in two years, after being submitted for consideration first by the owners of the New England Patriots in 2009, and recently by the town itself.

Foxborough officials had been eagerly awaiting word from the state on the MassWorks Infrastructure Program request they say is key to opening up economic development on land across the highway from Gillette Stadium where the Krafts hope to build a 1.5-million-square-foot technology park, and now seem to be also exploring development of a mega-casino.

The bridge was also seen as a way to help pedestrians avoid dangerous traffic conditions and offer safe crossing to thousands of fans who race across the roadway from parking lots on one side to events at the stadium.

In a letter to Foxborough Town Planner Sharon Wason, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki said his agency selected projects that were most ready to go forward, and most closely aligned with the program’s priorities to create jobs and support economic development. It doled out 23 grants to communities for local development projects that support housing, infrastructure investments, road safety, and downtown revitalization.

South of Boston, the grants include $5.1 million for the Town Brook culvert restoration project in Quincy, and $535,740 for water line installation in Rockland.

Bialecki said he received 158 applications totaling more than $400 million in funding requests. He urged Wason and other officials to try again in the next grant round in September after taking time to review the program guidelines and consider ways to increase project readiness or consistency with the program’s goals.

Foxborough Town Manager Kevin Paicos said he’s disappointed the town was passed over but knows the bridge project is somewhat speculative. Receiving the grant would create an incentive to buy into a proposed development project, rather than leverage a project that doesn’t yet exist, he conceded.

“It would be an inducement for developers to look at it,’’ Paicos said.

The Krafts have envisioned building on 146 acres the company owns on the north side of Route 1, across from the National Football League stadium and the Patriot Place mall.

“We will keep plugging away at it because we do think it’s a significant piece of developable land,’’ Paicos said.

Paicos and other town officials have said a footbridge is the obvious way to get thousands of workers from a technology park across the road to Patriot Place for shopping and dining.

The town has also applied for federal Transportation Improvement Plan funds for the bridge.

That area of Route 1 has been grabbing headlines this year. Earlier this fall, Foxborough selectmen killed a proposal by Paicos to rezone the area for gambling, in anticipation of passage of the state’s casino bill. But they now seem open to at least talk about it, and the Krafts are hosting Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn at the Patriots’ game against the Indianapolis Colts today at Gillette Stadium to discuss the possibilities.

Both the rezoning proposal and the footbridge application were developed with assistance from the Krafts’ legal team, and there has been previous speculation that a casino was being eyed for the Kraft land. Principal Robert Kraft declined comment on a possible casino when asked by the Globe last month.

In 1999, legislation on construction of the stadium called for a footbridge to be built to aid pedestrian traffic, but it never materialized. Then, in 2009, The Kraft Group submitted to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs a proposal for the technology park that included not only a new MBTA stop but also a request for $9 million in federal stimulus funding for the bridge. The 8-by-45-yard footbridge would have elevators on each side that the company pledged to maintain.

Once the proposal was made public, though, some questioned the use of public funds for a bridge that would benefit Kraft, a billionaire. Others said Kraft has already made a significant investment in the community by building the stadium with his own money.

A spokesman for The Kraft Group had no comment on Wednesday when asked whether Kraft would pick up the tab for the bridge. But, said Stacey James, “We will continue to work with local and state officials to explore all options.”

Paicos characterized the idea of The Kraft Group building the bridge now as “inappropriate,’’ saying that, while the town routinely asks businesses to engage in infrastructure improvements as part of mitigation agreements, $8 million is a lot to ask for a project that is not yet a reality.

However, if a large project materializes at the site, Paicos said, “Someone could say, ‘We could build the bridge using our own money, instead of using state money.’ ’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.

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