© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Congressman Neal Tours Pittsfield Businesses, Stresses Need For Public Works Projects

Jim Levulis

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal spent Monday afternoon in the westernmost part of his district touring businesses.Neal toured Unistress Corporation facilities on Cheshire Road in Pittsfield. Since the middle of 2014 the concrete manufacturer has been preparing to ramp up production after landing the largest bridge contract in its 47-year history. After completing work on Boston’s Big Dig and the new Yankee Stadium, Unistress is tasked with producing 6,000 precast concrete deck panels for the New NY Bridge linking Westchester and Rockland counties over the Hudson River. It will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.

“What could be better for the state [Massachusetts] and Berkshire County than for us to win a $70 million contract in New York State and create 150 jobs here in the Berkshires out of that,” said company president Perri Petricca. “Bring out that $70 million, probably $30 million in direct wages.”

Unistress is one of only four companies that produce pre-stressed concrete panels in New England and the only one remaining in Massachusetts. Neal said he is impressed by the narrative of the company.

“This is a terrific story,” Neal said. “To walk through that plant today – I mean how many times do you get to go through a plant where unions and management are all happy. By the way when that’s happening I’m happy.”

Earlier this year, Unistress was also awarded an $11 million contract for a bridge replacement between Staten Island and New Jersey as well as a $15 million agreement to produce panels for the new Sara Mildred Long Bridge connecting New Hampshire and Maine. Unistress is investing $6 million in its facilities to expand its production capacity. It hopes to get work on a parking garage at the MGM casino in Springfield. Petricca says the only things stopping the company from landing projects in places like Philadelphia and New Jersey are transportation costs, permits and state requirements.

“For example when we were going to Boston with these loads we required a state police escort,” Petricca said. “We needed an escort for every piece. So if we had four pieces going out of here we would have four state troopers come out of the Lee barracks and escort us to Lee. They would get a four hour minimum, but they’re not allowed on the Turnpike. So then we would pick up four more state police escorts who would take us to the Worcester exit or wherever we’re getting off, but they don’t go off the Turnpike. We would pay them four hours minimum. Then we would pick up four more state troopers from down there to maybe take us two or ten miles to the job site. We would have paid 12 hours of state police escort time per load for a trip from here to Worcester or wherever we might be going.”

Neal, a Democrat, says over his more than two decades in Congress, one thing that’s changed is representatives seeking public works projects do not support the funding for it.

“I think that’s been a huge philosophic divide,” Neal said. “Members of Congress who seek the initiative, or I as describe them the people that are at every groundbreaking and every ribbon cutting and against every revenue measure. By the way, that probably promotes longevity. The problem with it, you can see now, is it’s stalled many of these big public works projects. I still think bridge work, highway work, roadways, airports, railroads – it’s the best way and the fastest way to jumpstart the economy.”

Unistress plans to employ about 500 people this summer, up from its current 350, at wages starting at $18 an hour. The cold weather has slowed the company’s production as well as structural work on the New NY Bridge. Petricca says roughly 300 of the 6,000 pieces needed for the bridge are ready to be trucked across the border.

Neal later visited Marland Mold, a plastic fabrication company, and the Berkshire Museum.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
Related Content