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MetroWest residents want to invest in more biking lanes, infrastructure projects

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  November 15, 2012 12:48 PM

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For the second time this year, a line of top officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation stood at the front of Framingham Town Hall's auditorium Wednesday night, faces stoic as they listened to residents' criticisms on biking, walking, driving, and taking trains in the state.

Many residents from the suburbs west of Boston said they wanted to see more bicycle lanes and trails to help their daily commute, as well as more bicycle racks at commuter train stations.

Others, many engineers and construction workers, said they applauded the state's Accelerated Bridge Program - an eight-year, $3 billion undertaking that aims to fix structurally deficient bridges in the state system, which also created thousands of jobs - and wished to see more economy-stimulating infrastructure projects in the future.

Part of a 17-city tour this fall, the forum comes on the heels of several Boston-area public hearings this past winter that addressed the MBTA's looming $161 million deficit.

"The meetings about the MBTA started a dialogue on statewide needs," said Charles Planck, senior director of MBTA strategic initiatives. "We want to get input on what people want to see more and ideas on how to fund it."

Local bicyclists flocked to the meeting, saying that while they appreciated the work Boston has done to accommodate bikers, they wanted to see more biking lanes and trails in the suburbs.

William Hanson, chair of Framingham's Bicycle and Pedestrian Commitee, said he liked how the state has been subsidizing the Hubway bike-sharing system in Boston, and wished to see facilities set up in Framingham.

Hanson also echoed other bicycle advocates, calling for funding to create new biking paths in the area.

"I hope funding can be accelerated in particular for those with the potential for heavy usage for commuter corridors," he said.

Hanson also said he wished to see more bike racks installed at the Framingham commuter line station.

"The bike racks get overloaded, and they're not very secure," he said.

Ben Gustafson, who also sits on the Framingham biking committee, said he has been riding his bicycle or taking the commuter rail from Framingham to work in Cambridge for nearly 11 years.

Gustafson said during his bicycle rides to Cambridge, he noticed that some interchanges prove hazardous for bikers, and wished to see safe biking lanes to make the commute easier.

"There is generally a lack of east-to-west bicycling routes," he said.

Gustafson said he also wished to see more trains on the Framingham commuter line, since the trains fill to capacity quickly, especially during rush hour, he said.

"The Framingham line is very popular," he said. "Also, the trains are sometimes understaffed by conductors, who oftentimes won't be able to collect fares, which results in a loss of revenue."

Dick Williamson, a Sudbury resident, said he would like to see abandoned rail beds redeveloped for biking use.

"These were connected to major transportation hubs but are no longer functional, and go unused," he said. "There's a real opportunity here."

Williamson said that bicycling has grown exponentially in recent years, but said the state has failed to fund it accordingly.

"Bicycle usage is increasing, but it's not reflected in the proportion of funds going to bicycles," he said. "I hear a lot of good words, but when comes to funding, I find disappointment."

Another resident, who said he lived in a town next to Framingham, said he was disappointed that the state emphasized car use over bicycling.

"We are not getting the same amount of infrastructure support for bicycles," he said. "Here in the MetroWest, we are seeing virtually no infrastructure. I would like to see some type of effort to at least do some striping on the roads."

Lee Toma, a Milton resident, said he bikes to work in Natick every day, and would also like to see bike lanes, especially along heavily-traveled roads like Route 128.

"When you're out there repaving or re-striping the roads, there’s an opportunity to save money and install bike lanes along the way," he said. "It seems like a cost-effective way to make improvements to help develop a multimodal transit system."

Numerous engineers and public roads workers also attended the meeting, noting that infrastructure projects not only help connect the state's municipalities, but also keep businesses afloat by creating jobs.

Janet Callahan, president of Palmer Paving Corp., said she drove from Western Massachusetts to applaud the state for its bridge program, but also asked officials to continue large-scale projects.

Callahan said that her company focuses on public roads projects, and such programs helped her company to hire a staff of 200, plus up to thousands of other subcontractors, suppliers and truckers.

“Other businesses range in the hundreds and thousands of people we create jobs for,” Callahan said. “The roads support that. We must continue to support road and bridge programs.”

Danielle Spicer, an engineer living in Marlborough, said she thought the state made headway with the bridge projects, but wanted to see more improvements.

"The public will support the investment on these projects, where efficiency and good results can be seen easily," she said.

Spicer also implored officials to not only plan infrastructure projects, but to also fix bridges and roads as they need repair to keep long-term costs down.

"It will cost twice as much in the future if we don’t maintain and repair it," she said. "I understand funds are limited, but if we make the right choice in transportation investment, we'll see economic growth, and help commerce and business."

Some residents had different gripes.

One Natick resident said he wanted to see more local transportation in the suburbs, noting that he would like the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority grow to accommodate the number of workers commuting locally.

"About 25 percent of work trips are still going to Boston and those surrounding areas, but the majority of work trips in the MetroWest stay in the MetroWest, so we need to expand our regional transit system to accommodate 50 or 60 buses," he said.

Jasper Lapienski, 22, said he traveled from Northampton to talk about the need for more trains in Massachusetts.

"We need a plan for the future where cars are not the only means of transportation," he said. "We should use something more environmentally-friendly. We need a large diversity of transportation."

Lapienski said he would also like to see express rail service from Boston to Amherst.

"It would alleviate a lot of transportation issues across the state, since there's a lot of traffic back and forth," he said.

State Representative Tom Conroy, who lives in Wayland, said he also supported increasing the amount of riders taking public transportation by improving and investing in trains and buses.

"Right now, we have less than 20 percent of the daily commute in the morning and the evening taking public transportation," he said. "I'd like it to be near 50 percent. That may not be attainable in the short term, but it’s a worthy long-term goal."

Mark Durfee, a Grafton resident, said he was appalled by the bumpiness of highway roads he encounters on a daily basis.

"This is just inexcusable," he said. "When you leave state lines, and go drive in Connecticut or New Hampshire, the roads become much smoother."

After the meeting, Planck said he appreciated the commentary from residents.

"This meeting was very well-attended," Planck said. "There were a lot of comments on a big-picture scale, and those were very helpful."

For a full list of MassDOT public information hearings, visit the department's website.

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