Mayor James Ruberto and Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. discuss the work going on at Park Square. Top photo: Rep. William Pignatelli, Aloisi and Councilors Peter Marchetti and Jonathon Lothrop.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield is embarking on four major streetscape projects this summer designed to transform the downtown into a more pedestrian friendly area and to smooth traffic flow.
A total of $5.7 million in state highway funds are being pumped into the downtown and anchored around Park Square, including a $1.2 million Public Works Economic Development grant approved by State Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr.
Aloisi was on hand Friday afternoon to toss a ceremonial shovelful of dirt and congratulate the city on the winning the competitive grant and its "visionary" Mayor James Ruberto who had him hunkered over plans to beautify Pittsfield's main artery the first time they met.
"I said, ... 'I don't know you from Adam but I think you're a visionary mayor and I want to support what you're doing,'" Aloisi recalled. "And I'm looking at the beautiful buildings and the vistas here, and what you're doing here is about what Massachusetts should be about. It's about finding ways to make public investments and transportation investments that will improve the quality of life for people."
The PWED grant will be used to narrow North Street from Park Square to the Columbus Avenue/Eagle Street intersection through the use of pedestrian bumpouts that will calm traffic and improve safety, said Deanna Ruffer, the city's director of community development. It will also include sidewalk improvements, benches, plantings and lighting.
The North Street facelift will complement work already begun on South Street and Park Square. Once completed, traffic will flow north/south along the main way and southbound traffic will no longer have to travel around Park Square. The oval park will become more teardrop-shaped, which Ruffer said will provide better access for pedestrian use.
The first phase of the North Street project — from Park Square to Depot Street — is expected to begin this summer; the second half from Depot to the Intermodal Transportation Center will begin next summer. The first phase should be completed in time for the opening of the Beacon Cinema Center, an $18 million project being constructed in the former Kinnell-Kresge building a stone's throw from Park Square.
"I promised the Beacon theater that when it opens Dec. 14, it will be shiny brand-new," Ruberto told a gathering of public and transportation officials and local businessman at Park Square on Friday afternoon. He was joined by City Councilors Peter Marchetti and Jonathan Lothrop; Kathy Quinn from the office of Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield; Pittsfield Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood and Peter Niles, MassHighway District 1 director, who was lauded for his work.
Digging in are from left, Deanna Ruffer, Lothrop, Pignatelli, Aloisi, Ruberto, Marchetti and Bruce Collingwood.
The mayor ticked off a list of other multimillion projects over the past few years that have been "winners": the $22 million Colonial theater restoration, Barrington Stage Company and the Berkshire Museum renovation and addition.
The streetscape projects include the $1.9 million Park Square reconstruction, the $1.4 million sidewalk reconstruction, lighting, signage and crosswalks on South Street from Housatonic to West/East streets and a secton of Union Street and $1.1 million for the same work for another 820 feet of South Street and a section of Housatonic Street.
Also planned are nearly $900,000 in improvements to Center and West streets; $5.5 million for McKay Street parking (mostly in federal stimulus money) and nearly a $1 million for parks on Columbus and Eagle streets in anticipated future grant funding.
Ruberto described the North Street plan as gestating for five years, but some of the work under way has been in the planning stages for more than 20.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, told how is father, a county commissioner, had come home with a plan to have traffic flow directly south onto North Street. "Now it's under way," said Pignatelli. "Pittsfield is the hub of the county, as my dad always said, 'so goes Pittsfield, so goes the county.' I think this is a wise investment in our capital city."
Aloisi said more projects will be beginning in the county, including paving work on Route 116; resurfacing of River Street and sections of Routes 2 and 8A in North Adams and other streetscape improvements and, hopefully, the Mall Connector Road in Lanesborough between Routes 7 and 8 if an agreement can be reached.
Stimulus funding will also be flowing into the county, he said, once shovel-ready projects are determined. "We are going out of our way working with folks at the local level," said Aloisi.
Despite the financial crisis, forward-thinking like what he was seeing in Pittsfield was imperative. "If we allow ourselved to delcine now we'll never catch up."
David Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., said any improvements to traffic flow and pedestrian access can't but help the area.
"I think the secretary is right, I think these kinds of projects can spur economic development," said Rooney. "You hear about the theoreticals but here you see it at the ground level, being practically applied."
Ruberto, Pittsfield's No. 1 booster, was pleased.
"We will have everything going that will show Pittsfield to be the urban center of Berkshire County," he said. "And it will continue to move us forward to be the best-darn small city in the Northeast."
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Aloisi is a liar. He just got busted lying go on the radio and claiming to have saved $31 million from layoffs at the pike, too bad to good governement he was lying, too bad for him it was all on tape. Hear for yourself: