Legislature Passes Transportation and Climate Spending Package, Includes Rep Connolly's Local Priorities

On the final day of formal legislative sessions, Representative Connolly voted with his Cambridge and Somerville House colleagues to enact H.5151, An Act relative to Massachusetts’s transportation resources and climate. This bill authorizes $10.9 billion for projects, including $400 million for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to address ongoing safety concerns identified by the Federal Transit Administration’s Safety Management Inspection and $275 million to advance initial elements of the East-West passenger rail project. 

Rep. Connolly is pleased to announce the bill includes a number of his local and regional priorities.

The Grounding McGrath Project

The final bill includes Rep Connolly’s sponsored amendment which would authorize bonding for $250,000 for the next phase of design for the McGrath Boulevard Project (also known as Grounding McGrath) in Somerville. 

For several years, Rep. Connolly and other local leaders have been championing a plan to demolish the McGrath Highway’s crumbling elevated overpasses and transform the roadway into a calmer, multimodal, surface-level boulevard that knits the surrounding neighborhoods back together. 

Originally built in the 1950s, the McGrath Highway predates the existence of Interstate 93, and like many other expressway projects, it sought to increase convenience for white suburban car commuters by demolishing homes and dividing redlined, predominantly immigrant neighborhoods in East Somerville and Cambridge.

The passage of this amendment will add momentum to the design and implementation of this project which dates back to a 2013 report which can be viewed here. Most notably, DOT has announced that a 25% design proposal is forthcoming, and so this amendment could further accelerate that ongoing process.

Future Use of the Grand Junction Corridor

The final bill also includes Rep Connolly’s sponsored amendment which would authorize bonding for $500,000 for a feasibility and design study along with a public engagement process for the future use of the Grand Junction Corridor in the City of Cambridge. The study would explore the potential for Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) vehicles among other options.

The Grand Junction corridor connects the commuter rail northbound lines with the southbound lines and is currently used to ferry locomotives between those two systems.

The middle of the Grand Junction corridor runs straight through the heart of Kendall Square and could eventually link the Worcester Line to North Station, or to a future west station in Lower Allston, the City of Cambridge, MBTA officials and Kendall Square businesses, and the Cambridge Delegation are keen to preserve and upgrade the rail line in the near future. 

Additionally, Rep Connolly would like to highlight the passage of the following cosponsored local priority.

Amelia Earhart Dam Rehabilitation

The Amelia Earhart Dam provides critical flood protection for the residents and businesses in the Mystic River Watershed. This amendment, cosponsored by Rep Connolly, would authorize bonding for $8.5 million for much-needed rehabilitation and enhancements so that this dam can continue to respond to the threats posed by coastal flooding.

Draw7 Park Renovations

Once renovated, Assembly Square’s waterfront greenspace, Draw7 Park, will be an important DCR asset for both leisure and climate resilience. The final bill includes $4,000,000 to install a living shoreline, link public transit to miles of multimodal paths along and across the Mystic river and improve public recreation, ecological restoration and waterfront access to Assembly square and nearby environmental justice communities in East Somerville.

Fare-Free Bus Pilots

Rep Connolly has long advocated for the State to assist municipalities who want to pilot fare free bus routes. The final bill includes $6.95 million for fare-free bus pilot programs for the MBTA and Regional Transit Authorities. In addition to making bus service more frequent and reliable, eliminating fares is one of the best ways to increase accessibility and usage. Rep Connolly will continue to partner with local advocates and policymakers on the City Council to make fare free bus pilots in Cambridge and Somerville a reality.

Other regional and statewide funding highlights of the bill include: $20 million for Complete Streets for accessibility, bus, and bicycle infrastructure enhancements for municipalities, $25 million for Transportation Management Associations, $82 million for rail improvements, $64 million for projects of regional transit networks and facilities, $1.37 billion for sustainable transit system modernization and rail improvements, $145 million for multi-modal transportation planning and programming, $200 million for projects that reduce emissions such as public alternative fueling stations and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, programs promoting e-bikes and public transportation, replacement of high-emissions vehicles, electric vehicles for hire and carsharing, electric school buses, electric short-haul freight, and delivery trucks, $200 million for commuter rail electrification, a mobility pricing commission to study roadway and congestion pricing and public transit fares, and $1 million for $500 rebates for most residents purchasing an e-bike, and $750 for low income individuals.

Additionally, the bill: 

  • Updates safety requirements to be met prior to excavation projects 
  • Authorizes vehicles or trailers used for maintenance, construction activities in highway work zones to display flashing blue lights with a permit from the registrar
  • Requires the MBTA to provide parking alternatives to commuters when it demolishes or reconstructs parking lots or garages it owns or operates
  • Requires MassDOT, in consultation with the Comptroller, to develop and operate a publicly accessible and searchable database to report on this bill’s expenditures and any project receiving federal funding from the federal Infrastructure and Investment in Jobs Act of 2021 
  • Establishes a commission to review and receive testimony concerning public entities, including those that may be created by statute in the future, with the ability to design, permit, construct, operate and maintain passenger rail service that meets the standards of the Final Alternatives in the East-West Passenger Rail Study Final Report issued by MassDOT in 2021

The final version of the bill passed both chambers and is now on the Governor's desk as of Aug 1st. He has ten days to sign or veto the legislation. Since the last day of formal legislative sessions was July 31st, the Governor may also choose not to sign the bill or send the bill back with amendments, which would effectively kill it since there are no formal sessions scheduled for the remainder of the year.

Unfortunately, the final bill did not include the implementation of low-income fares on the MBTA which local and regional transit advocates have called for.  Notably, both branches passed this in early 2021, only to have the Governor veto it. Rep Connolly will continue to advocate for funding and opportunities to implement a low-income fare program and affordable transit options for riders across the Commonwealth.

Thank you to House Speaker Ron Mariano, Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and Transportation Chair William Straus for their leadership in bringing the final conferenced bill to the floor. Thank you as well to local advocates like the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, Transit Matters, Transportation 4 Massachusetts, and all of Rep Connolly’s House and Senate colleagues for their advocacy.