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Northern Berkshire Residents Press Lawmakers for Transportation Funding

Concerned members of the Northern Berkshire community gathered in North Adams Friday to participate in an open discussion on their current and future public transportation needs.

Transportation has been a lively topic of discussion since Governor Deval Patrick called for raising taxes in his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal to make a significant investment in the state’s public transit system.

And Gary Shepard, administrator of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority – one of 15 RTA’s– is not oblivious to the idea that the Berkshires are without an adequate public transportation network. Comparing what services the BRTA can provide to the services offered by the MBTA, Shepard called the difference an “injustice.”

Shepard spoke to a small crowd at the monthly forum held by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. He’s hoping the state government can put the Regional Transit authorities in a future funding scenario, but also is advocating for funding that would allow the BRTA to expand its services.

Many workers in the Northern Berkshires who don’t have cars and work the second or third shift must rely on Berkshire Rides – a service provided in seven North County towns that serves 32 percent of the local workforce.

Originally funded by federal discretionary spending through the office of previous Massachusetts Congressman John Olver, since his retirement last year, Berkshire Rides is now supported by an allocation through the state budget. Project Manager Jana Hunkler Brule said at the meeting that future funding for the program has not yet been announced.

Members of the community voiced their opinions on how to fill a need for adequate transportation. Ed Lacosse, a resident of North Adams, is seeking more support for individuals confined to wheelchairs.

In the audience listening was state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Democrat who informed the group on how to communicate its message to Beacon Hill.

First Berkshire District State Representative Gail Cariddi, a Democratic member of the House committee on transportation,  also attended the meeting. But she said at a time when transportation investments are needed in the Berkshires, House leaders are not as receptive as the governor’s proposal to raise taxes in order to pay for them. She said that a transportation committee on Tuesday hopes to make more clear the way the state legislature will respond to the governor’s calls for transportation investment.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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