|State Officials: Pandemic Does Not Slow Transportation Projects|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
02:39AM / Thursday, May 28, 2020
|A construction project on Route 7 in New Ashford causes a lane shift on Wednesday afternoon.|
BOSTON — The commonwealth is not pausing public works projects because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If anything, it is picking up the pace, officials indicated on Wednesday.
"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some people might think the T would not be able to do as much in fiscal year 20, which ends at the end of June," Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said. "In fact, the MBTA expects to exceed its spending goal of $1.4 billion this fiscal year, which would represent a massive increase over fiscal 2019 and more than doubling the amount invested in maintenance and modernization from less than five years ago."
Pollack was joined by Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday morning at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Maverick Station to talk about the soon-to-be-completed work at the East Boston rapid transit station.
Rapid work at such facilities has been a priority for his administration, Baker said. And MBTA officials took advantage of the slowed economy due to the novel coronavirus to accelerate the work.
"One of those projects was this track and infrastructure work on the Blue Line, which was originally scheduled to be accomplished through a series of weekend diversions — 12 or 14 weekend diversions later this year," Baker said. "The impact of COVID-19 on ridership and traffic made it possible, along with legislation that was championed by Speaker [Robert] DeLeo and Sen. [Joseph] Boncore and others in the Legislature, made it possible for the T to engage in a very quick pivot and bump the work forward to take advantage of very low ridership numbers, low traffic on roadways and use shuttle buses that can move people pretty quickly from Maverick [Station] to the other side of the Harbor and back."
Most of Wednesday's daily press availability for the governor focused on the T system and other public transportation issues in metro Boston, but Pollack said that the commonwealth's ramped up public works extend beyond Interstate 495.
"MassDOT's Highway Division is similarly hard at work with employees and contractors following new sanitation, face covering and physical distancing guidelines as they continue maintenance work: paving roads, repairing bridges, responding to traffic incidents, designing projects, inspecting assets, mowing the grass and fixing potholes," she said. "While work practices have changed, the hard work being done by the men and women of MBTA and Mass DOT has not."
Baker and other officials stressed their hope that continued telecommuting — where possible — and staggered hours for businesses that are recalling workers to brick and mortar locations will keep the commonwealth's transportation system from being overwhelmed as the economy reopens in the wake of the pandemic.
"Employers need to work with us to gradually bring workers back, especially here in the city of Boston," Pollack said. "Cities and towns can work with each other and with us to ensure there are safe spaces for everyone, whether they are driving, bicycling, walking or using the T, including more lanes for MBTA buses.
"Drivers need to consider traveling at off peak times and need to fight the urge to speed while the roads remain relatively wide open. MBTA passengers need to do their part by covering their faces and practicing social distancing. Everyone needs to stay home if they're feeling sick."