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MassDOT Leader Tours Berkshire Projects

The head of Massachusetts’ Department of Transportation spent Wednesday learning about and celebrating projects in the Berkshires.Visiting the western part of the state for the second time in as many weeks, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack celebrated the official completion of the Hadley Overpass, which carries Route 8 over the Hoosic River into downtown North Adams. The $35 million project — which even has the wrong completion date of 2012 etched into its concrete pillars — took eight years to finish.

“Once we made the commitment to fix the Hadley it was critically important that we do it right,” Pollack said. “And it got done right. When we ran into more problems than we thought we were going to have to face, the time and money was spent.”

Talk of repairs started before Deval Patrick stepped into the governor’s office in 2007 with work beginning before Charlie Baker took over this year. Steel and concrete that needed to be replaced extended the completion date and ballooned costs above a projected $25 million. The rehabilitated overpass is 940 feet long and fixes what MassDOT says was a functionally obsolete span. Some 12,000 vehicles cross the overpass each day. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright thanked city residents for their patience during the many years of work.

“This beautiful structure will be a landmark of this city for many, many more years to come,” said Alcombright.

“We can all begin to call it the Hadley again…not some of the names that it was being called over the last few years,” joked the mayor.

Pollack also toured the Main Street reconstruction in Great Barrington, which is expected to be complete in spring 2016. Pollack is hopeful key parts like sidewalks, bike lanes and road paving will be finished before stopping construction for the upcoming winter. At 65 percent completion, the cost is nearly $6 million. The secretary also met with Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi, talking about a fix for a downtown parking garage and road redevelopment.

“The Baker administration has put together just a one-year capital plan for our first year for both MassDOT and the commonwealth as a whole because we wanted to have extra time to really reach out across the state and understand the investment needs,” Pollack said. “We’re now starting the process of putting together a five-year and 20 or 25-year plan. I’ve been trying to get out to communities across the commonwealth and understand not only what we are currently doing, but what communities think are the investments we’re not yet making.”

Pollack says the long-talked about revival of passenger rail from Pittsfield to New York City hinges on Connecticut’s involvement. In February MassDOT finalized the $12 million purchase of 37 miles of the Housatonic Railroad from Pittsfield to the Connecticut border.

“Connecticut is working real hard right now on the Knowledge Corridor,” Pollack explained. “They’ve just started a huge New Haven to Springfield project like Massachusetts. They have to make prioritization decisions, so we’ll keep talking to Connecticut but it’s just not going to make sense to advance that passenger rail until we know that the whole distance from Pittsfield to New York is going to be covered.”

In 2014 MassDOT estimated $35 million in initial track improvements as the rail currently services freight. Pollack says over the next year or two the state will prioritize its transportation projects. 

“In recent years the state rail and transit administrator, which is a legislatively mandated position, was actually held by the general manager of the T,” Pollack said. “It’s pretty hard just to run the T. Hard to ask one person to run the T and think about the rest of the state. I have named a statewide rail and transit administrator Astrid Glynn who has experience on both passenger and freight rail. And who can really think just about freight rail statewide and passenger rail outside the MBTA. I’ve asked her to start putting together a more comprehensive approach. It may be a longer term approach than people want, but we want to make sure that we’re thinking in terms of real networks and connectivity and not just buy a piece of track there, do a little project there.”

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