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Pittsfield Begins Executing Multimillion Dollar Reimagining Of Tyler Street

A map of Pittsfield's Morningside Neighborhood
City of Pittsfield

This month, the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts began a multimillion dollar reimagining of one of its major thoroughfares. Tyler Street is perpendicular and to the east of the downtown strip, connecting economic hubs like Berkshire Medical Center and General Dynamics. Pittsfield’s Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales says the project, slated for completion at the end of 2022, includes a new roundabout and new bicycle lanes. He spoke with WAMC about the city’s vision for a new Tyler Street, and what’s next for Pittsfield’s street improvements.

MORALES: Right now we're focusing on the Chapter 90 work, which is taking place as we speak in about nine miles throughout the city, scattered throughout the city. We're issuing weekly updates with a specific schedule for residents to avoid streets or to not park on certain streets as we do work on those. We're doing approximately nine miles this summer. And then we have the Tylrr Street Streetscape with the- That includes the redoing the right of way along the Tyler Street corridor between around First Street and Woodlawn. And this project includes the roundabout at Woodlawn. It's expected to be completed by the end of next year. The roundabout work will be the most impactful scope of the work this year, taking place approximately in August. And next year, we'll see most of the additional impact as we continue doing the sidewalks and curb relocation for the project.

WAMC: Longtime Pittsfield residents know how significant the streetscapes program was on North Street. When we think about a similar reinvention or reimagining of Tyler Street, is it going to resemble in any way the work done on North Street?

You will find some recurring themes, like narrowing of the travel lanes for vehicles, inclusion of curb extensions at the intersections to eliminate some of the distance pedestrians may need to travel between sidewalk and sidewalk. And we're including bicycle lanes, buffered bicycle lanes. We're making an introduction that folks saw last year in the fall with the bicycle boxes and two stage turns for bicycles. We’re making that permanent feature of the Tyler Street project. And then again, the roundabout. So we're including a few things. In terms of the sidewalk space, we're not playing that much with brickwork, we're sticking with concrete. As we know, it is much less susceptible to seasonal movement and breaking than brick. That's what to expect right now.

When you imagine a streetscapes project like this, it strikes me that you're considering economic impact, safety impact, the community. Can you walk me through how the city imagines the various levels of the project, given how complex it is?

This project started in earnest in the planning phases several years ago with the Department of Community Development carrying most of the work. We are now in charge, my department is in charge of the construction of it. So we are taking this into account, but we were a part of the process since essentially day one. And yes, we take into consideration economic aspects, the community's needs are weighed in, safety is very important. And of course, the design standards that we have to apply, as we know, they are, you know, best practices in the nation and the world. And we take all that into a specific order of priorities. And we, with that, settle on the design for the road.

Now the city has received millions from the state for the Tyler Street project. Can you break down exactly how much of this comes from those state grants and what comes out of taxpayers’ pockets in Pittsfield?

We have $2.5 million dedicated from capital authorization by the city council for the streetscape project. And we have $1.2 million for capital authorization agai, for the roundabout. And then we have $3 million dollars that came from the MassWorks state grants. So all combined, we are well funded to continue the work. The project bids came through and we selected a contractor under our budget. And we were very comfortable to continue this with a hefty contingency in case anything were to happen that we need to adjust as we continue.

There's been a lot of state and city investment in the Tyler Street corridor linking economic hubs like BMC and General Dynamics. Looking into the future with this project scheduled, are there other areas you see the city investing infrastructure improvements in moving forward?

That is a great question. And yes, we are. I will call to attention two areas that we are heavily involved with. And that's- The first one, the intersections around North Street, First Street and around the BMC area. We're actually going to have a 25% design public hearing with the state on June 30th. It's going to be a public meeting at the Berkshire Athenaeum at 7 pm. I encourage everyone that wants to know more about this project to attend. This project is right now at 25% design, and it's expected to break ground in 2024. And the other I would say, creating more of a linking part, is the East Street corridor improvements from Merrill Road to Lyman Street. This is a one project in a series of several projects that the state and Pittsfield, the state and the city are paying attention to to improve the connectivity for multiple modes of transportation between the downtown area and the eastern side near General Dynamics and Merrill Road area, Coltsville and all that. So this project, we're actually doing another 25% design public hearing on- July 15th is the tentative date right now. It'll be publicly announced soon.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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