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State Report on Transportation Planning Doesn't Neglect Rural Concerns

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Far from the world of Big Digs and bigger traffic jams, the rural communities in the Berkshires have their own unique transportation issues.
Williamstown Select Board member Andrew Hogeland spent the last year serving on a statewide panel looking at the future of transportation and advocating to make sure rural communities are not left out of that discussion.
Take, for example, the telecommunications that are needed to facilitate rideshare services like Lyft and Uber and that, someday, will enable autonomous — i.e. driverless cars.
"Probably something like 5G will be useful for autonomous and connected cars [i.e. cars that ‘talk' to one another], but there are benefits to that kind of network that go far beyond transportation alone," Hogeland said. "Part of the recommendation is to make sure that whatever that system is is rolled out proportionately around the state.
"Western Mass has a history of being the last to get electricity, the last to get cell phones, the last to get TV. The ambition is to break that pattern and see if we can roll it out on a more proportional basis and not have the rural communities left behind yet again."
That was part of Hogeland's mission as a member of the Commission on the Future of Transportation in the commonwealth, an ad hoc body created by Gov. Charlie Baker.
As the president of the Berkshire County Selectman's Association, Hogeland was one of two members of the 19-member commission who brought a Western Mass perspective. The other was Sandra Sheehan, the administrator of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority.
The transportation commission issued a 73-page report that was delivered to Baker in mid-December. Hogeland said he would recommend key parts of the report to the commonwealth's Rural Policy Advisory Commission.
At least one of the transportation report's recommendations already has seen some forward movement. The commission promoted the idea of a regional cap and trade initiative for transportation emissions, analogous to a similar program for Northeast states' stationary sources of pollution.
"A week after the report came out, quite a number of states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic agreed in principle to make that happen," Hogeland said of the Transportation and Climate Initiative announced on Dec. 18.
Although the announcement that Massachusetts will join with Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia was coincidental with the commission's report, "It's a sign we're all the same page with practical steps being taken."
Another of those practical steps can be pursued at the local level here in the Berkshires, where a scattered population makes it difficult to achieve the economies of scale needed for a robust public transportation system.
"We need to be more inventive about ways to adjust existing transportation models to fulfill our needs," Hogeland said. "One would be looking at TNCs (transportation network companies) like Uber and Lyft and seeing if there is a way to have those services be an adjunct to existing bus services. Is there a way TNCs could be added on or substituted by transit authorities to better serve parties at the ends of the long roads.
"Another idea was to look at whether we can make better use of assets like buses that are now dedicated to a single use — school buses, Council on Aging buses. Al those buses aren't busy all day long. Is there a way to share bus assets across different jurisdictions? It's something the Berkshire Regional Planning Planning Commission is getting ready to work on."
And local municipalities, many of which, like Williamstown, already are talking about broadband service for residents, should engage regionally and statewide to look at communications solutions that will support transportation in the 21st century and beyond.
Though many people advocate that the best solutions involve a 19th-century technology — train travel — Hogeland said the Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth avoided talking about specific rail projects as part of its report.
"The commission made a pointed decision early on not to discuss particular projects," he said. "It didn't want to be involved with people lobbying for MBTA sites out east or a station in Pittsfield. It made a recommendation to continue to explore rail transportation throughout the commonwealth. … But we wanted to stay away from specifics.
"[The Department of Transportation] already has agreed to do a study of improved rail service to PIttsfield. I think there's another 18 months on that study."

Tags: public transportation,   transportation,   

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Williamstown Board Talks Reasons For, Against Replacing Police Chief

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday gave residents a window into one piece of the numerous conversations the body has been having in executive session since mid-August.
During the public comment portion of the twice-monthly public meeting, Janice Loux pressed the five elected officials to explain whether they individually recommended to the town manager that he remove the chief of police in the wake of allegations raised in a federal lawsuit against the town, town manager and chief.
Loux, one of many community members who have been pushing for the removal of both Chief Kyle Johnson and Town Manager Jason Hoch, was given an opening when Select Board members Jane Patton and Andrew Hogeland indicated in separate remarks that they favored a change of leadership at the Williamstown Police Department.
"A big part of my education has been learning about how different actions affect certain members of the community," Hogeland said. "In the midst of the focus on that and the work that needs to be done and the voices that need to be heard, I did not sufficiently acknowledge that I had heard those voices. I have and I do, and I join in the apologies for that gap.
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