On Friday, Southborough announced state funding of a “Shared Winter Streets and Spaces” grant award. While I’m sharing that, I’m also including recent news about other state funding authorizations for our Town.
Two weeks ago, Southborough’s State Representative announced that legislation signed into law by Governor Baker included multiple funding projects for Southborough. Among projects included in a transportation bond bill was $500K “in authorizations aimed at improving local pedestrian and bicycle travel” in Southborough.
The Mass Department of Transportation’s grant announced by the Town on Friday is $290K for a “Southborough History Walk“. (Scroll down for more details.) So far, I haven’t heard back as to whether the grant falls within the $500K under the transportation bond bill or is additional funding.
Other Southborough specific capital authorizations touted by Representative Carolyn Dykema were:
- $300,000 for the expansion of parking at the MBTA Commuter Rail station, “which typically reached full capacity during traditional commuting hours prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- and $250,000 for wastewater treatment
I wasn’t able to get confirmation from the Town that the latter is related to the Downtown Initiative. But it seems likely.*
Town officials have previously referred to “insufficient wastewater management infrastructure” as an obstacle to revitalizing downtown Main Street. As part of the Economic Development Committee’s Downtown Initiative, the Town received $25K for an engineering feasibility study to investigate a solution.
The Town has been using the other half of the $50K grant for the Downtown Initiative for a consultant to provide technical assistance on EDC’s efforts to improve zoning bylaws downtown. A consultant has been aiding selectmen, EDC members and the Planning Board as they work towards bringing proposed bylaw changes to voters at the next Annual Town Meeting.
Prior to opening public hearings to be held by the Planning Board, Selectmen and the EDC agreed that it would make sense to hold a public forum on Downtown Main Street. Invitations will be mailed to abutters and the event publicized for the general public. (I’m told that other Main Street issues, like tensions between CSX railroad and abutting downtown properties, will be covered as well.)
The schedule for that forum will be discussed during tonight’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
In addition to the capital authorizations, Dykema promoted statewide and regional funding support that included $2 million in workforce development and small business grants for the MetroWest area as part of a $626 million economic development bill. You can read that press release here.
As for details on the Southborough History walk, the press release describes a project that:
includes the construction of new sidewalks on Marlboro Road (Route 85) and St. Mark’s Street, and a new plaza / gathering area adjacent to the Public Library and paths around the “Old Burial Ground” to create an educational gathering area for Town residents and students.
I reached out to Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan for more detail. She provided a draft of the concept plan that the grant application was based on. (You can open the pdf here.)
The proposal shows shifting south the intersection between St. Mark’s Road and Marlborough Road (Route 85). The current intersection would be demolished and replaced with loam and soil. The southern section of a triangle of land abutting the Southborough Library that is currently owned by St. Mark’s School would be converted to a Southborough public space, subject to an agreement with the school.
Below are images of the intersection’s current layout (from the Town’s GIS map) followed by the proposed project.
Galligan clarified that the sidewalks, walkways, gathering areas in the draft plan were all included in the grant. Moving the intersection and drainage wasn’t. That would need to be funded through another source for road work (e.g., Chapter 90 or road maintenance under Town Meeting’s Capital Expense Article).
Below is Southborough’s press release on the grant award:
The Town of Southborough has been notified by MassDOT that they are among the twenty-one cities and towns to receive grant awards in the latest round of funding for the Shared Winter Streets and Spaces program. The Shared Winter Streets and Spaces program provide grants as small as $5,000 and as large as $500,000 for municipalities to quickly launch changes for safer walking, biking, public transit, recreation, commerce, and civic activities. These improvements can be intentionally temporary or can be pilots of potentially permanent changes. MassDOT is particularly focused on projects that respond to the public health crisis and provide safe mobility for children, for elders, to public transportation, and to open space and parks.
Southborough received $290,000.00 to support the implementation of a new “Southborough History Walk”.
The project includes the construction of new sidewalks on Marlboro Road (Route 85) and St. Mark’s Street, and a new plaza / gathering area adjacent to the Public Library and paths around the “Old Burial Ground” to create an educational gathering area for Town residents and students.
The project would connect numerous Town facilities (Town Hall, Town Common, Old Burial Ground, Public Library, Historic Society) to a variety of uses including the Southborough Senior Center, Community House, St. Mark’s School, Woodward Elementary School and Fay School. The new gathering area would be available to improve educational offerings provided by the Public Library and the nearby schools.
This project will expand the sidewalk network from the nearly completed Main Street (Route 30) Reconstruction project and create new off-road paths to improve pedestrian connectivity and gathering spaces within the Downtown area. The project will connect various Town assets to multiple schools and points of interest. The Town, through Chapter 90 funding, will move the road and upgrade the existing drainage.
Special thanks to DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan for her efforts that led to the grant award.
*I didn’t hear back from the Town Administrator on the wastewater treatment question. I also tried emailing Representative Dykema. She did get back to me but didn’t have details to share. She explained:
The language included in the bond bill doesn’t specify a project and could be used for any project that falls within the scope of the language which is wastewater treatment broadly. It’s important to note that unlike earmarks which are authorized through the budget, capital authorizations through bond bills such as this one, must be released by the Governor before they become available to the town. Now that the funding has been authorized in the legislation, the town and the legislative delegation would need to make the case to the administration for release of the funds. Such a request would identify a specific project along with an explanation of how the funds would be used and why it’s important to the town (ie economic development, public safety, etc.) Factors that increase the likelihood of the release of funds include showing that the project is “shovel ready” and that the town is contributing matching funds. The bond is authorized for 5 years so there is a significant window within which the town could identify a project, plan, and request the release of funds. It is important to note that the bond authorization isn’t a guarantee of the release of funds, and not all funds authorized are released. For this reason, many towns seek to use these funds for projects that are priorities to be advanced by the town regardless of whether the state funding is released.