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Transportation secretary touts complete streets program

Transportation secretary touts complete streets program

METRO WEST DAILY NEWS – The state’s complete streets program can provide an economic boost to cities and towns and improve the quality of life, state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told city officials and business leaders Wednesday.

Speaking at Marlborough Economic Development Corp. Founders Reception, Pollack highlighted the program and the benefits to downtown businesses.

The program is designed to accommodate all modes of transportation and promote safety, health and economic viability, she said. Pollack said the program is designed with bikers and walkers, as well as drivers, in mind.

In the works for a handful of years, the grant program was launched earlier this year. Municipalities can receive up to $50,000 for technical assistance and up to $400,000 in grants to construct complete streets in their communities, said Pollack.

Implementing complete streets is one way cities and towns can help drive economic and recreational activity in parts of their communities, such as downtown. Complete streets could encourage residents to bike or walk to shops, reducing traffic congestion in the process, according to Pollack.

To be eligible for the program, a municipal employee must finish a complete streets training course, a community must develop a prioritization plan and a complete streets policy. In the 12 weeks since the program has launched, officials from more than 200 communities have completed the training course, said Pollack.

“We were the state that had the most complete street programs,” she said.

In hopes of receiving grants through the program, the city this fall created its first complete streets policy. Under the four-page plan, city departments and developers are directed to constantly plan, design, construct and maintain streets to accommodate all anticipated users. The plan also instructs the city’s Public Works Department and other boards to review projects for complete street elements.

City officials have incorporated complete street aspects, such as bike lanes and sidewalks, into projects, such as the reconstruction of Simarano Drive and Farm Road.

The Public Works Department is also required to conduct a baseline inventory of pedestrian and bicycle accommodations in the city and file an annual evaluation as part of the policy.

Along with complete streets, Pollack is pushing for increased reliability and consistency in transportation by modernizing infrastructure. Pollack highlighted the recently completed Burns Bridge that spans Lake Quinsigamond and connects Shrewsbury and Worcester as an example.

Pollack characterized the award-winning bridge as a modern project that improves transportation and features expansive sidewalks allowing residents living in a nearby elderly apartment complex in Worcester to walk to shops in Shrewsbury and enough room to allow rowers on the lake to pass under the bridge.

“It was designed to meet the needs of the community for the next century,” said Pollack.

Along with focusing on transportation, the Founders Reception also celebrated the MEDC’s 10th anniversary. MEDC officials highlighted several successes the organization has had in the past decade, such as attracting a number of companies to the city, reducing the commercial vacancy rate from 22 percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2015.

The MEDC also provides financial incentives, such as a revolving loan fund and rental assistance program, to help small businesses grow and thrive.

“We’ve done a lot of stuff,” said Arthur Bergeron, former MEDC board chairman. “There’s a lot of exciting things downtown.”

This article by Jeff Malachowski originally appeared here.