With $750,000 in federal grants, North Adams to undertake study of Route 2 overpass
In February, the Biden administration awarded a $750,000 grant to North Adams, Massachusetts as a part of its Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. The $185 million undertaking is aimed at reevaluating infrastructure projects deemed burdensome to 45 communities around the country. In North Adams’ case, that means the Route 2 overpass that sits in the heart of the city. The traffic bridge is part of a larger road pattern that separates art museum and tourism magnet MASS MoCA, a major economic engine for North Adams, from the rest of the downtown. Reconstructing the overpass is part of the city’s 2030 master plan. WAMC spoke with Mayor Jennifer Macksey about how North Adams secured the grant and what it means for crucial infrastructure in the city’s core.
MACKSEY: The city of North Adams and MASS MoCA have been working very hard over the last year to collaborate on different projects. And MASS MoCA came to us and said, you know, I think this grant is a good opportunity for both entities to collaborate and come together and work together to secure this, what we call a pilot program to do a traffic study and to understand how the overpass plays a role in our community. Everything from traffic to pedestrian to bike path to just plain access to downtown as well as our other streets. And a focus on, how do we connect the MoCA campus to the downtown, how do we connect the downtown businesses to MoCA? And then we took another look at it, Josh, and how do we expand from the downtown? So, you know, everybody thinks that the downtown is the main street. But Marshall Street is part of the downtown, Ashland Street, State, Street Eagle Street. And how do we get the corridor coming into our downtown to be more attractive and easily easier to access? So, Jenny Wright from Mass MoCA and Carrie Burnett from the city of North Adams took the task at hand and they started writing and they started collaborating with other entities to see if we could check all the boxes in the grant application. And, of course, we did. We submitted an awesome narrative, and we solicited support from [Senator Ed} Markey’s office as well as Congressman [Richard] Neal's office, Senator [Elizabeth] Warren's office. And before we knew it, we were getting a call that it was awarded to us.
WAMC: Now that it's been secured, what is this process like? Is there a timeline in place to use this money to look into these issues?
So, I believe the timeline is two years, Josh, but we are meeting next week with the MoCA team to go over what the what it looks like for us, as far as how do we work on developing a community engagement plan, how do we get preliminary design and technical reports, how do we start the feasibility study, and then we'll dive into exactly what that timeline looks like. So maybe in a few weeks, if you follow up with me, we can I can give you a more definitive timeline. But a lot of this is about collaboration and bringing new ideas into the city. This doesn't mean that we're going to take the bridge down, it means that we're going to look to beautify it, we're going to look to assess it, we're going to look to see how our traffic patterns in all of our areas go and how that can spur some economic development. It's also really important to us that we looked at connectivity, and that kind of goes back to, what do we do with the bridge? What do we do with our traffic patterns? And what do we do with our pedestrian and bike traffic as well? So, this is an exciting time for us. We think that it's really a community-based project that will show MoCA and North Adams working together.
What are you hearing from downtown businesses as you go about this? For folks who aren't familiar with North Adams, this overpass really rests right at this critical juncture in the city between the MoCA campus and downtown. What are you hearing from the downtown business community?
Well, what we hear from a lot of people, not specifically the downtown, is that it's really hard to navigate that intersection, when you come over the overpass where Public restaurant is and Big Y, that people who aren't from around here have a hard time navigating it. And the businesses overall are very excited about having, making it easier for people to walk, for bicyclists to come through our downtown, etc. So, a lot of this research will really spur a traffic study of something that is much needed. As you know, Josh, when you come to city hall, it's hard to get out of city hall, it's hard to get over onto Route 2 or Route 8. It's just, there's too much traffic being dumped. So, I've never been a fan of, what do you call them, the circles, the traffic circles, the roundabouts. But maybe that's something that we need to consider in this area. We're very excited that we have the opportunity, and again, I want to stress, this doesn't mean we're taking down the bridge. But it means that we're going to look at all aspects of the traffic patterns and how we can connect the community better not only for traffic, but for pedestrian walkway and especially for people who are on bikes.
It does strike me that any efforts to deal with the overpass would raise a lot of questions about the impact of construction on the core of the city. How do you work that into your planning? I mean, if anything happens with that overpass, it's likely going to have a major impact on transit around the city.
Yeah, of course. You know, it's- We're far away from that Josh. We have some solid planning and feasibility to do, we need to gather a lot of data points. But at the end of the day, whatever we do in this community revolves around communication. So, if we shut down a street or we have to reroute traffic, we will do that. And what that looks like, I'm not sure yet because we don't know what the impact of this study is going to be. We don't know exactly what the work is going to be. But certainly, we would be fully transparent and work out a communication plan and use people like you to get the message out.