Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito touted the access small towns in Massachusetts have to state funding for vital infrastructure projects during a ribbon cutting this week in Lee.
State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, a Democrat from the 4th Berkshire District, says Forest Street, the main road between Lee and Tyringham, just south of Route 20, was in desperate need of repair.
“A couple years ago, you would have seen this as a lunar landscape, Governor,” Pignatelli says.
The 1.5 miles of road was riddled with potholes, and was difficult for the town of Lee to maintain.
The road is a critical route for emergency vehicles and school buses in the region. It also provides the only access to the state boat ramp on Goose Pond for tourists and residents.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of the road’s reconstruction, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said it’s the state’s responsibility to help small, rural towns keep up with critical infrastructure projects.
“As a person who grew up and is growing her own family, and my family’s business is rooted in central Massachusetts,” Polito says. “So oftentimes I am the voice for the communities outside of Boston.”
In 2016, Lee received a $1 million Small Town Rural Assistance Program grant from the state.
State Senator Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, says the program ensures 10 percent of the state’s economic development agency MassWorks’ funds are allocated to projects in rural communities with populations under 7,000.
“There is a difference between how you handle bigger towns and cities, and how you handle our smaller towns and rural areas, and that means that whether it’s regulations around, you know, culverts and all that exciting stuff, but it really makes a difference on the ground,” Hinds says.
Lee contributed $22,500 for design costs.
Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has increased MassWorks funding by $35 million. In 2016, the state promised $500 million for critical infrastructure projects. Polito says more than $190 million has been awarded so far to 90 communities.
“And making sure that all regions of our commonwealth from the Berkshires to the islands have access to this opportunity and have access to state dollars to unleash the potential in our area,” Polito says.
The Forest Street reconstruction project installed new guardrails, drainage and driveway improvements. Officials say that will reduce municipal maintenance costs in the long run.
“Under budget and before time,” Polito says.
Massachusetts often comes in for criticism from local representatives for not extending its opportunities and initiatives to the western end of the state. The Baker administration has made several trips to the Berkshires in recent months to tout state aid.
“Oftentimes the governor and I come to projects when we are announcing the dollars for a project; it is very nice to be able to come at the completion of a project and see that it was done in the way that you so desired,” Polito says.
Lee Selectboard Chairman David Consolati, a Republican, praised Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, saying it takes partnership across parties to get work done.
“There seems to be a big concern in the world today; it’s not the same the ones you’re dealing with,” Consolati says. “We are all working for the same goal: to deal with our communities and to try to put our best foot forward, and to have things done that we need done.”
Lee is seeking additional MassWorks dollars for new wastewater lines to the town’s three vacant mills.