Gloucester could be the lucky recipient of some new sidewalks near the city’s elementary schools if a state transportation bond bill — already including money earmarked for Gloucester — survives the legislative process.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester put an earmark in the $1.39 billion transportation bond legislation calling for $2 million to pay for new sidewalks along Routes 127 and 133 in the city.
The legislation has already survived the House, though it still must gain joint approval and the signature of Gov. Deval Patrick, who has questioned the idea of legislative earmarks in the past.
Gloucester Public Works Director Mike Hale said Tuesday he’s hopeful that the city will receive what he says are sorely-needed road repair dollars.
The Public Works Department is waiting for the state to approve funding before pinpointing exactly which sections of sidewalk will be repaired, Hale said. But, the department has decided to focus on the areas around elementary schools such as West Parish, in order to better protect the children who are already walking in the area and to allow more children the chance to safely walk to and from school.
“Rather than take the buses, people will walk, but you have to have some means of a safe way to get there,” Hale said.
Hale said replacing dilapidated sidewalks and providing walkways in areas that now simply have shoulders along the roadway will protect elementary schoolchildren who m
ight not be as capable of safely navigating traffic as high school kids or residents in other areas of the city.
“You protect those who can’t protect themselves,” Hale said, “and that’s the elementary school kids.”
The city receives nearly $700,000 in Chapter 90 state funding to spend on road paving annually, but the money is just enough to pave about 2 1/2 miles of roadway each year. The amount of money each city or town receives is calculated based on a community’s population, the number of people employed in the city and the amount of miles of public roadway, Hale said.
Gloucester has an estimated 80 miles of public roadway, but another 70 miles of private roadway that are not calculated into the equation, according to Hale.
The state dollars, however, can only be used to repair public roads and sidewalks.
Though Hale pointed to many sidewalks in need of repairs, implementing sidewalks near the elementary schools are a good start, Hale said.
“Gloucester has so much need and we recognize that the state only has so much money itself,” Hale said. “It’s very exciting, the possibility that we could be getting some funds for this work. We certainly give a big thanks to Sen. Tarr’s office.”
Gov. Deval Patrick retains the privilege to apply state transportation borrowed funds as he sees fit, allowing him to grant the money to Gloucester, or not.
In the past few weeks, Patrick has vetoed earmarked spending in the budget for projects related to marine fisheries, parks and recreation, housing services and travel and tourism, though the Legislature overturned most of those decisions.
Critics of earmarked funds say the assignments pull away public money that would otherwise be used on what they call more significant state projects.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, however, said the earmarks allow legislators “to set forth our desires.”
“This just sets forth the will of the individual members in terms of what projects they would like to get,” Deleo said.
Material from the State House News Service is included in this story compiled by Marjorie Nesin. She can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.