By Bonnie Adams
Westborough – A number of local government officials, representatives from municipal groups and interested members of the public gathered June 15 at Westborough High School to discuss a number of issues facing the 37 municipalities in the Interstate-495 corridor region. The public forum was sponsored by the state-initiated 495/MetroWest Development Compact.
The compact was formed last year by the Patrick-Murray administration as a way to identify and prioritize infrastructure and land-use issues the different communities are facing. Organizations partnering in the initiative include the 495/MetroWest Partnership, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC). The compact will be modeled on a successful prior project the commonwealth initiated, the South Coast Rail Corridor Plan. That project was targeted toward establishing smart growth and transit connections between Boston and the 31 communities surrounding New Bedford and Fall River.
At the June 15 forum, the audience of approximately 100 first listened to updates from the partnering groups on the compact's progress over the past year since the inception of the project.
Paul Matthews, the head of the 495/MetroWest Partnership, said that his group had been given the task of helping identify the 37 communities in the compact's geographic area, which includes cities as large as Worcester and Framingham and smaller towns such as Hopedale and Berlin.
Improving the routes 495 and 9 interchange will be one of the first challenges, Matthews said.
Victoria Maguire, from the state's Office of Housing and Economic Development, noted that there were six “fundamental principles” the compact would be following: 1) Major transportation and infrastructure upgrades; 2) New commercial and residential growth must occur in a respectful manner regarding open space resources, transportation networks and water resources in the region; 3) Land use and transportation decisions must respect the principles established by the Global Warming Solutions Act and the transportation re-organization statute; 4) Adequate workforce housing must be established for the number of workers that will be needed to help the region thrive; 5) an effective public transit system must be established to supplement the existing transit system; and 6) there must be a coordination of effort and implementation between all of the communities in order for the compact to be successful.
Holly St. Clair, representing the MAPC, presented some data points for the audience to mull over before they broke into smaller discussion groups. There are approximately 777,000 people in the 495 Corridor area, she said, which is 12 percent of the state's total. The majority of those people reside in Framingham, Marlborough and Shrewsbury. There are approximately 400,000 workers, which is 11 percent of the state's total. Many of the communities in the area are considered “developing suburbs” while eight are considered “maturing suburbs.” Worcester, Framingham, Milford and Marlborough are all considered “regional urban centers” she said, and are home to many of the area's lower-income and minority populations.
“It's important to be sensitive to that fact,” she said. “These populations are diversifying – there are more Latinos and Asians.”
After the presentation from the officials from the different groups, the audience broke off into smaller groups based on the areas they represented. Members looked over detailed maps and lists in an attempt to come to a conclusion on what they felt were the “priority areas” in regard to development, preservation and transportation in their communities.
The next step for the compact will be to assimilate all of the information already gathered and discussed so that it can be reviewed at future forums.
“It's a huge task to narrow down the priorities,” MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen said. “Each town has many, many ones that they feel are important.”
More information about the compact can be found at www.495partnership.org.