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$12b aimed at education, transportation

Patrick set to unveil 5-year building plan

Governor Deval Patrick tomorrow will unveil a five-year plan to spend $12 billion on new college classrooms, laboratories, roads, bridges, and other construction projects that he says were pushed aside as the state grappled to cover the ballooning cost of the Big Dig, according to a source familiar with the plan.

The blueprint would begin to fulfill a host of ambitious promises Patrick made during his campaign and the early days of his administration, by making the first investments in a commuter rail line to New Bedford, an extension of the Green Line to Medford, repairs to the Storrow Drive Tunnel and the Longfellow Bridge, and construction of a stem cell bank at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

It also details more modest measures intended to improve the quality of life for residents: the construction of 1,000 parking spaces at commuter rail stations, $7 million for additional urban parking garages, and $25 million to deliver broadband Internet access to 31 communities in Western Massachusetts by 2010.

Nothing will be built without the approval of the Legislature, which is expected to put its own stamp on the plan after Patrick formally seeks permission to float bonds for the projects next month. The proposal will probably renew the debate about how deeply the state should go into debt -- a factor that can damage its credit rating.

Last week, Patrick raised the amount the state can borrow annually from $1.25 billion to $1.5 billion and said he would allow it to rise to $2 billion by 2012. He said that public assets in Massachusetts have endured such a long period of neglect because of the Big Dig and political inattention that his administration needed to take steps to reverse the trend.

Originally slated at less than $2 billion, the price tag of the Big Dig spiraled to nearly $15 billion, leaving little money for other construction projects.

The biggest increase in Patrick's plan is dedicated to the state's public higher education campuses, which he says have been forced to delay billions of dollars in repairs in recent years.

In fiscal 2008, the plan would funnel $125 million into the system, up from $44 million in fiscal 2007. Over five years, the system would receive $750 million -- $375 million for the University of Massachusetts and $375 million for the 24 state and community colleges.

State officials say every campus has its own plan for spending the money, but each focuses in large part on building and repairing classrooms and labs dedicated to science, technology, and math. Those are the areas that Patrick believes are most likely to fuel economic growth and make possible his pledge to add 100,000 new jobs by the end of his four-year term.

"We're ready to press 'Go' as soon as the money is there," said Patricia F. Plummer, the state chancellor of higher education, who said she was "obviously delighted" with the proposed increase in funding.

The plan eliminates a requirement that the campuses provide matching funds for every dollar they receive from the state.

Patrick has argued that the requirement forces campuses to pass on the cost to students in the form of higher fees. Plummer said that erasing the rule "will definitely keep fees from rising."

Transportation projects would receive the most money under the plan -- $5.72 billion over five years -- including $1.12 billion in fiscal 2008, a 24 percent increase over fiscal 2007. About $613 million would be spent on roads and bridges in fiscal 2008, a 15 percent increase over the previous year.

Bridges owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation would receive $14 million in the first year, enough to provide temporary repairs to the Storrow Drive Tunnel and the Longfellow Bridge. Both are facing much more serious work over the next several years, however. Officials have said the Storrow tunnel, which is crumbling and leaking, might cost between $50 million and $130 million to fix, and the Longfellow Bridge, which was built 100 years ago and has a similar design to the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, might need $200 million in repairs.

The project to build a commuter rail line into New Bedford, which carries an estimated $1.4 billion price tag, would receive $17 million over three years, enough to launch the initial planning and permitting phase of the project. Many more environmental and construction permits would be needed before the rail line is built.

The plan also provides $20 million for a raft of mass transit projects that the public was promised to compensate for the inconvenience and pollution caused by the construction of the Big Dig. These include improvements to the Fairmount commuter rail line, which runs from South Station through Dorchester and Hyde Park to the Readville section of Boston, as well as the extension of the Green Line from Cambridge into Somerville and Medford. The money would also fund a study to examine connecting the Blue Line to the Red Line and the building of 1,000 new parking spaces at train stations.

State beaches and parks would receive $96 million in the first year, a 25 percent increase over fiscal year 2007.

"I think it's going to be a big step forward toward restoring these places," said Frank Gorke, director of Environment Massachusetts, an advocacy group. "I think you're going to see cleaner beaches, better bathhouses, newer and better visitor centers, and safer trails, all of which makes these what they should be."

Public housing would receive $170.5 million in fiscal 2008, 47 percent more than the previous year. The plan also provides an estimated $250 million to construct a building to house what Patrick hopes will be the world's largest stem cell bank at the UMass Medical campus in Worcester.

Michael Levenson can be reached at

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