Lowell, Chelmsford big winners in transit-bond bill
The Lowell Sun
By Chelsea Diana -State House Correspondent
BOSTON -- Lowell state representatives have managed to win funding for several area transportation projects -- from expanding trolley service to a downtown walkway -- in final negotiations over the state's multi-billion-dollar, multi-year transportation-bond bill.
The gains for the area were part of a $12 billion transportation borrowing bill, passed by the Legislature late Wednesday night. In the end, 150 amendments offered by lawmakers were added to the bill out of 262 amendments proposed.
For Lowell, the revisions include $25 million to expand the Lowell National Historical Park trolley from 1.2 miles to 7 miles, build an enclosed walkway from Gallagher Terminal to the Thorndike Factory building and aid toward a feasibility study for a footbridge near the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus.
"These plans will continue to move the city toward economic vitality," said state Rep. Tom Golden, who along with representatives Kevin Murphy and David Nangle, offered the amendments.
The trolley project, which is estimated to cost about $60 million, would connect the entire city via trolley and encourage more visitors to explore Lowell.
Under the plan, the line would start at Gallagher Terminal, continue to downtown Lowell and then branch off to UMass Lowell and the Tsongas Center.
"They (visitors) would get right on the trolley from Gallagher Terminal and take it around the city . . . what a boom for the economy to Lowell," Murphy said.
The city will also get $900,000 toward building an enclosed walkway from the Gallagher Terminal to the Thorndike Factory building.
Connecting the terminal with the Thorndike building, which holds housing units and business space, would encourage more people to take advantage of the parking garages, Murphy said.
Lupoli Companies, owned by Sal Lupoli of the Sal's Pizza chain, recently announcedLupoli will purchase the building and renovate it for a mix of commercial and residential use.
Nangle offered an amendment to provide $200,000 toward a feasibility study for a footbridge over the VFW Highway that sees traffic from students near the UMass Lowell campus. Several students have been struck while crossing the road and a footbridge would better guarantee their safety.
Other amendments affecting the Greater Lowell area include $5 million in aid to revitalize Chelmsford town center.
Golden and Nangle along with Reps. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, and Jim Arciero, D-Westford, offered the plan to redevelop Chelmsford's Center Village, the town's main commercial area.
The plan includes increased walkability, better sidewalks and more parking to ease access to Center Village.
While redevelopment to the area has been ongoing, Golden said it has been slow and the aid will bring a "breath of fresh air" to the renovations.
Paul Cohen, Chelmsford's town manager, said the bond follows passage of the town's master plan for revitalization, which was presented to the Board of Selectmen Monday.
"This can get us started with the revitalization and enhancement of the downtown to rehabilitate buildings and really make over Center Village," Cohen said.
Several amendments offered by local lawmakers were rejected by the Legislature, including a $2.5 million bond amendment to invest in a low-interest loan program for Lowell area businesses.
If the project passed, Lowell would have matched the proposed amount to bring $5 million in low-interest loans to small businesses. The program, Golden said, would have attracted new businesses to the area and helped with the city's economic transition.
While the money allotted for the approved projects will not be immediate, Lowell and Chelmsford will receive portions of the funds over the next few years.
"We're not getting the money today, but this is part of long-term plans for Lowell and this is the first step -- a huge step," Murphy said.