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Major Improvements Coming To Streetscape In Tornado Impact Area

artists' rendering of Central Street in Springfield
City of Springfield

More than eight years after a tornado devastated a low-income neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts a major infrastructure improvement project is underway. 

In one of the last federally-funded disaster recovery projects from the 2011 tornado, work has started to realign Central Street – the major traffic corridor through the Six Corners-Maple High neighborhood.

Pointing to new single-family and duplex houses that have been built along Central Street, a new elementary school, an early education center that is nearing completion, and plans for an apartment building development, Mayor Domenic Sarno said a lot of good things have happened in the neighborhood in the eight years since the natural disaster.

"When you look at the area and the beautiful market-rate housing along Central Street that is all occupied, Educare is being built there ( at Springfield College), the beautiful new Brookings school, the old Brookings school is going to be affordable workforce housing, the watershops, the round-a-bout at Six Corners," said Sarno.

The reconstruction of the Central Street corridor, with a price tag of $3.2 million, involves realigning and repaving streets, installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals, and landscaping, according to Springfield DPW Director Chris Cignoli.

"The roadway there is in just absolutely horrible condition, " said Cignoli. " It has been for years."

 Improvements to the infrastructure along the Central Street corridor have taken years to be realized because the plans involved taking some private properties and using some public parkland.

"Before we could go through the land-taking process, we had to go through the lengthy federal process of the park commission having to review everything and that's taken, I want to say, 8-12 months," explained Cignoli.

The City Council approved some of the first eminent domain takings in 2016 and earlier this year authorized the final property takings.   The major acquisitions, which totaled more than $500,000, were an automotive business, a vacant store that once housed a poultry business, and a brick duplex house.

The tenants have been relocated and demolitions began last week.

Funding for the new Central Street infrastructure is coming primarily out of the $23 million the city received from a disaster recovery program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sarno said Springfield has been nationally recognized for how it responded to the 2011 tornado.

"We were able to build a master plan, the largest ever in the city's history with three thousand participants, that not only brought back the third of the city devastated ( by the tornado) but enhanced and strengthened all of the city of Springfield,"  said Sarno. "We are just about done."

The Central Street project also includes constructing a new entrance to Ruth Elizabeth Park. 

Additionally, the city is planning to spend $450,000 on improvements to the park including putting in walking trails accessible to people with disabilities.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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