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Berkshire County Planning Efforts Focus On Transportation, Life Sciences

Planning efforts surrounding economic development through the life sciences and transportation in the Berkshires are about to head into their next stages.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is asking county residents to weigh in on planning efforts examining potential station locations for North-South passenger rail between Pittsfield and the state border with Connecticut, as part of a $240,000 federal grant. 

The push for restoring passenger rail service between Pittsfield and New York City was brought to greater attention this year when Governor Deval Patrick included more than $113 million in funding for the rail project as part of his $13 billion, 10-year A Way Forward transportation plan.

Nat Karns, Executive Director of the BRPC, said that certain factors play a large role in finding a suitable location for a rail-station on the Housatonic line.  

"You've got a lot of demand for it already, but you've got to accomodate for cars for people to use the service," said Karns.

For some locations, the infrastructure is already in place, including the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield, which is served by buses and gets adequate parking from nearby garages. But other communities that might take part in the Berkshires would face challenges. Karns gave Lee as an example.

"There will be people in Otis and Beckett, and they don't have any effective means to get back and forth other than to have a car, so you've got to plan for that kind of problem," said Karns.

Karns also mentioned the potential for further development in communities with rail service. He cited a study commissioned by the Housatonic Railroad Company and conducted by Williams College economist Dr. Stephen Sheppard that said restoring passenger service along the Housatonic line would amount to a $343 million increase in sold goods and services in the Berkshire area over 10 years.

The public meetings will be held in at Lenox Town Hall on June 26th, with a second July 10th in Great Barrington at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

Meanwhile, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority is about to submit a business plan to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in hopes of receiving $50,000 in grant funding to conduct a feasibility study on constructing a life sciences building in the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield.

PEDA Executive Director Cory Thurston said that the MLSC has earmarked $6.5 million funding for the construction of a life-sciences building in Pittsfield, but PEDA must provide a viable business plan before the release of any funding to the City of Pittsfield.

"Before the big bucks are released, we've got to walk before we run," said Thurston.

Thurston said that PEDA will submit its plan to the MLSC on June 26th.

He added he would like the William Stanley Business Park to be home to startups in the region that have moved beyond the incubator phase, and are ready to begin small-scale production and manufacturing.

Thurston said that Pittsfield’s proximity to research institutions including the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, the College of Nanoscience and Engineering at UAlbany, and UMass Amherst would prove an advantage in attracting a life sciences business to the park.  

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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