Dear Constituents and Friends,
Last week I wrote you with an update detailing my legislative efforts on Beacon Hill over the past year. As promised, I am now sending an update on my work in 2016 on district-specific issues and projects.
Each year as we develop the state budget, I work with my legislative colleagues who also represent Watertown and Cambridge to advocate for important local priorities. In this year’s (FY17) budget, we achieved:
- Local aid increases for both communities. Since reaching a low-point in FY12 due to the economic downturn, state aid for K-12 education and local government has grown $2.5 million (29%) for Watertown and $8.4 million (33%) for Cambridge. This year Cambridge saw a particularly large increase in education funding to accommodate growth in enrollment.
- Additional funding for school districts like Watertown with exceptionally high special education costs.
- One-time funding for the launch of a transportation management association (TMA) serving the Arsenal Street and Pleasant Street corridors in Watertown
- A provision limiting MBTA fare increases to no more than 7% every two years.
- An 11% increase in funding for the Councils on Aging in both communities to support programs for seniors.
Another important part of my work involves advocating for resources for district projects, often in the form of state capital funding. Recently much of this work has focused on bringing more comprehensive and reliable public transit to the district, improving safety and infrastructure for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, and restoring state-owned parklands. Other elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels have been invaluable partners in these efforts, together with engaged citizens, businesses, and not-for-profits and the staff from Watertown and Cambridge municipal departments.
Projects that made noteworthy progress in 2016 include:
- The Mount Auburn Street/Fresh Pond Parkway study is well underway, with many exciting ideas under consideration, including intersection improvements, traffic calming, and a possible dedicated bus lane on Mount Auburn Street from Aberdeen Ave to Fresh Pond Parkway. This project is funded by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The next public meeting on the project will take place 6 – 8pm on November 14 at the Shady Hill School Gym, 56 Coolidge Ave in Cambridge. All the project documents are available on line at: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/conservation/planning-and-resource-protection/projects/mount-auburn-street-corridor-study.html
- The Arsenal Street Corridor study is also in full swing with active participation from many local stakeholders. A number of alternatives are being considered to reduce congestion, improve public transportation, and enhance safety for all users. This project has been funded by the MA Department of Transportation. Project documents and the schedule of future meetings can be viewed at: https://www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/Main/CurrentStudies/ArsenalStreetCorridorStudy/Documents.aspx
- The reconstruction of Greenough Boulevard wrapped up this summer. Four lanes of roadway were reduced to two, improving safety for motorists while allowing for more green space and a greatly improved multi-use path along the Charles River. This work was funded through a public-private partnership between the DCR and the Solomon Foundation. An additional stretch of pathway along the river’s edge in Hell’s Half Acre was restored with Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding from Cambridge.
- Design is nearly complete on Phase II of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway, which will extend the multi-use path from its current terminus at Nichols Ave in Watertown to Fresh Pond and Alewife. Funding for the design was provided by DCR and several local businesses and not-for-profits, including athenahealth, Boylston Properties, the Watertown Community Foundation, and the Solomon Foundation. The most recent version of the design can be viewed at: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dcr/news/public-meetings/materials/projects/2016-6-2-watertown-greenway-presentation.pdf Senator Jehlen, Senator Brownsberger, and I are now in discussion with state agencies on the funding for construction. I am optimistic the state will prioritize Phase II. For one thing, it’s the critical link between the Charles River paths and the Minuteman Bikeway, Alewife Greenway, Cambridge Linear Park Path, and Belmont Bike Path, all of which converge at Alewife Station. Also, the state is emphasizing the importance of the bike path network as an alternative to congested roadways and a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- This summer saw the official ribbon-cutting of the improved Watertown Riverfront Park. This marked completion of Phase I of the project to restore the pathway and parklands in the DCR property between the Founders Monument and Perkins Hill in Watertown. It also features the remarkable Braille Trail, an interactive pathway and sensory garden for persons with visual impairments. Construction was funded by the DCR, Town of Watertown, Solomon Foundation, Bilezikian Foundation, Watertown Commission on Disabilities, Perkins School for the Blind, and Watertown Community Foundation. We are currently in conversations with the DCR and others on funding Phase II of the project, which will extend the improvements eastward to the Watertown Yacht Club. Thanks to the efforts of Senator Brownsberger, Simmons College has already pledged $500,000 to Phase II in connection with its Daly Field project across the river (which also opened this fall).
- Work is nearing completion on the reconstruction of the historic brick walls in Lowell Memorial Park along Brattle Street. In September, Cambridge approved an additional $60,000 in CPA funds, to be matched by DCR, for a landscape rehabilitation plan for the entire park.
Other District Issues
Earlier this month we achieved a breakthrough on the issue of excessive airplane noise in parts of Watertown, West Cambridge, and North Cambridge. After more than three years of stonewalling, the FAA acknowledged that the noise impacts of Logan Airport’s satellite-based navigation system (known as RNAV) need to be reanalyzed. The RNAV system, implemented in June 2013, concentrates departures along narrow corridors, subjecting the neighborhoods below to persistent, loud overflights at intervals of 2-3 minutes, including before 6am and after 11pm. On October 7, the FAA and Massport announced agreement to undertake a test program to better understand the implications of the flight concentration and study possible mitigation strategies. This is a victory for a coalition of federal, state, and local officials, along with many dedicated citizen-activists, who pushed back against the FAA’s prior determination that the RNAV system had “no significant impact” on area communities. My colleagues and I will continue to press to make sure the test program is fully implemented and incorporates public input.
At its September 19 meeting, the MBTA managing board heard the results of an analysis of ways to increase capacity on the Red Line, the T’s busiest rapid transit line. The analysis showed that the greatest potential for improvement lies in expanding the planned update of Red Line cars to include the entire fleet rather than just the 132 cars currently slated for replacement. The advanced braking technology on the new cars, combined with minor signal and speed rule changes, would permit an increase in Red Line capacity of 50%, from 13 to 20 trains per hour, or one train every three minutes. The T has already set aside $200 million in its capital budget to refurbish the 86 additional cars. Replacing them instead would likely involve a higher cost, but would be a major boost for public transit in Cambridge and adjacent communities. I’m encouraged that the T undertook this analysis and look forward to working with the T and my legislative colleagues to pursue this exciting possibility.
Finally, I want to highlight language signed into law by the Governor in August to give municipalities discretion to lower speed limits below the state standard of 30mph. Along with Senator Brownsberger, my office helped conduct the policy research to lay the groundwork for the passage of this language. Reducing speed limits in densely settled areas and near senior centers and playing fields has figured in conversations about traffic calming in several parts of my district. I am hopeful that municipalities will take advantage of this new flexibility and lower speed limits where appropriate, making our roads safer for all who use them.
As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or would like to learn more, please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-722-2140.