Exec. Director Tim Brennan: Let's keep the infrastructure renewal conversation going

11 Jul 2017

At the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), we have been encouraged of late to hear such a renewed focus on infrastructure in public discourse. While not always the most exciting topic, it seems more and more residents are realizing the critical impact infrastructure has on our region's economy and quality of life here in Western Massachusetts.

Roads and bridges are often the first thing that comes to mind when people think infrastructure – and rightfully so! Our Transportation Section works with state administrators, DPW directors, municipal engineers, and our local leaders to determine what projects get completed each year within our region. This section also has continued to work on rail connectivity – most recently the completed north-south Knowledge Corridor passenger service reestablished to serve Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. With Connecticut's new commuter rail service connecting New Haven, Hartford and Springfield scheduled for launch in 2018, the Valley stands to gain much greater access to points south, including Bradley International Airport and New York City. Lastly, we remain committed to working with our partners at the local, state and federal levels to establish a reliable rail connection linking Springfield, Palmer, Worcester and Boston.

Our Community Development Section is also no stranger to infrastructure improvements in the Valley. Over the years, they have leveraged federal funding to repair or replace over 250 septic systems, as well as resurfacing 25 miles of roadway – mostly in our smaller, rural communities with routinely tight local budgets. Other infrastructure projects tackled by PVPC's Community Development staff in these towns – primarily the Valley's southern Hilltowns as well as in eastern Hampden county – have included the installation of sidewalks and guardrails, fire safety improvements, water and sewer lines; and a water tower.

PVPC's Land Use & Environment Section also plays an important role in ensuring the Valley's infrastructure well-being. Charged in part with protecting the health of our region's water bodies and waterways – including this region's crown jewel, the Connecticut River – the PVPC's land use & environment staff members have been diligently working to remediate the harmful impact that Combined Sewer Outflows (CSOs) have on the Connecticut River and its tributaries. Partnering with the urban core cities of Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke as the PVPC and its Connecticut River Clean Up Committee, the Commission continues to implement projects designed to reduce the flow of pollutants into the Connecticut, especially during periods of rainy weather and snow melt. In that same vein, we also have enthusiastically sought to install green infrastructure and promote the planting of more trees and rain gardens in our region's denser urban neighborhoods. As effective and affordable means to boost environmental quality, PVPC staff from this section also conduct a great deal of infrastructure planning as part of the larger Commonwealth-wide Complete Streets program which ensures roadways are designed to sensibly accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists after decades of vehicle-centric policies.

Last, but certainly not least – infrastructure also means ensuring broadband access to many of the Pioneer Valley's rural communities, which lack broadband service or are severely underserved. PVPC's Economic Development Section has continuously advocated for broadband access in the dozens of communities who still are unable to fully attract and retain businesses and entrepreneurs who most rely on high-speed internet to conduct their business, but otherwise would be a perfect and cost effective fit.

In the months to come, we are hopeful leaders in Washington will signal their intentions to significantly boost infrastructure investments here in Massachusetts and elsewhere across our nation. Here at the PVPC, we stand ready to partner with any and all levels of government to continue to improve our region's built environment in the pursuit of a higher quality of life for residents of the Valley as well as a vibrant and competitive economy.

Tim Brennan is the Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission – the state designated regional planning agency for the 43 cities and towns of Hampden and Hampshire county.

Link to MassLive.com posting here