For over 5 years, the Town of Belmont has been designing the reconstruction of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road — the busiest traffic corridor in town.
State-federal funding for the actual construction may still be five years away, but the good news is that the state has finally placed the project in its long term funding plans.
Great credit goes to the town’s Traffic Advisory Committee, the Board of Selectmen, the Town Administrator and the Town Engineer for their sustained focus on this critical project.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, a voting body constituted under federal law and comprised of representatives from state agencies and from communities within the greater Boston area, controls a pot of over $1 billion in annual spending that includes almost all of the state and federal transportation funding in the region. Each year, the MPO approves a new three-year project list called the TIP — Transportation Improvement Plan. We have been working to get Belmont/Trapelo onto the TIP for several years. The TIP is still backed up badly as a result of the Big Dig.
Given the backlog, the MPO has generally been refusing to schedule projects that haven’t achieved a “25% design” approval. Once a community works out a conceptual design — as Belmont’s Traffic Advisory Committee did several years ago — traffic engineers begin detailed design. Upon the completion of “25%” design, a level of detail sufficient to identify all property encroachments and most other potential problems, Mass Highway comes in and does a formal design hearing and a detailed review of the plans.
When Belmont/Trapelo received it’s 25% approval this spring, we were hopeful that this might be the year we could get it on to the TIP. Unfortunately, after a full hearing and vigorous debate, the MPO chose to fund a single very large project, a flyover at Crosby’s Corner, the big turn in Route 2 out past 128. As a result a half dozen very solid projects were deferred, including Belmont/Trapelo.
But the good news came with the MPO’s recent decision to list our project in the 2011-2015 band in its long term plan which extends to 2030. The long term plan is a fiscally constrained document — it is not a mere wish list, but a prioritized plan for major projects based on cost and revenue estimates. The inclusion of the project reflects its high scoring on measures like pavement needs, safety needs and economic development needs.
Reinforcing the state and federal commitment to the project, Congressman Markey was able to put an earmark for funds for the project in the pending federal transportation bill. If this earmark makes it through the Senate, it will give the MPO one more good reason to prioritize the project.
One frequently asked question is “what about stimulus funding?” Because the project is still in the 75% design phase it is not “shovel ready”. Stimulus funding is making only a modest contribution to clearing the TIP backlog because TIP projects tend to be complex and hard to bring to full readiness.
The project can move ahead of others and get into an earlier funding trajectory if it achieves full readiness — 100% design and completion of all right-of-way acquisitions. Very frequently, projects that are on the TIP turn out not to be quite ready to go at the end of the fiscal year. At that point, the MPO slips in other worthy projects that are fully ready.
There is no single infrastructure project that will do more for the quality of life and economic development potential of the town. At a projected cost of $13 million, it is equivalent to the town’s entire road budget for five or ten years.
I look forward to continuing to work with the town’s leaders to get to end of job on this project.