Monday, September 14, 2020

Baker‐Polito Administration Awards Funds to Municipalities for Improvements to Road-Stream Crossings

Ipswich Awarded Funds For Culvert Upgrades 

The Baker‐Polito Administration today announced $806,880 in grants to support culvert replacement projects that improve municipal roads and river health in communities across the Commonwealth. Provided by the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration (DER), the grants support projects that strengthen community preparedness for large storms, protect fisheries, wildlife, and river habitats, and promote smart investments in climate-ready infrastructure.

“As climate change brings fiercer storms and increased rainfall to the Commonwealth, the safety issues surrounding undersized culverts become more urgent and apparent,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Replacing this aging infrastructure is critical to ensure the resilience of our communities and natural resources, and the availability of resources like this report and these grant awards is vital for driving this important work forward.”

“These granted projects represent the culmination of hard and thoughtful work and collaboration between local and state officials to transform ecologically vulnerable spaces into well-engineered infrastructure that supports people and the environment,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “Through a culvert replacement, Ipswich will maintain a critical roadway for public safety and emergency access and safe passage for important species of wildlife.”

The town of Ipswich received $48,500 to conduct final design and engineering as well as permitting for a culvert replacement. Upgrading the culvert will improve the reliability of the road, which serves as an emergency access to Route 1, western sections of the town, and nearby hospitals. The upgrade will also allow brook trout access to coldwater streams, which is particularly important as the climate warms and stream temperature increases.

DER’s Culvert Replacement Municipal Assistance Grant Program helps municipalities replace undersized and deteriorating culverts with crossings that meet improved design standards for fish and wildlife passage, river health, and storm resiliency. The grants also help municipalities deal with the ever-pressing cost of aging road infrastructure.

“Failing and undersized culverts can negatively impact communities in many ways, from causing flooding or road failures during storms, to preventing wildlife from accessing necessary habitat,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “This culvert replacement report and these newly-funded projects address these issues, allowing waterways to return to a more natural state and increasing resilience to climate change.”

“Culverts play a vital role in protecting roadways, safeguarding wildlife and river habitats and redirecting waterways that could impact homes and businesses,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “The report’s recommendations will serve as a valuable path forward for local and state planners and the grant money gives cities and towns the ability to undertake field data collection, design and engineering work, and other steps in an effort to strengthen municipal preparedness.”

Nearly half of Massachusetts’ estimated 25,000 small bridges and culverts act as barriers to fish and wildlife because they are undersized or poorly positioned. Undersized culverts can also present a serious risk to public safety. As high intensity rainfall becomes more frequent and severe due to climate change, culvert bottlenecks can cause flood waters to overtop roads, resulting in washouts and road closures. Installing culverts that meet the Massachusetts Stream Crossing Standards allows rivers to flow unrestricted and with a lower risk of flood damage.

The Administration also announced the release of a report titled, “Recommendations for Improving the Efficiency of Culvert and Small Bridge Replacement Projects,” prepared by the Massachusetts Culverts and Small Bridges Working Group. This report highlights the safety and environmental challenges presented by over 25,000 road stream crossings across the state and the need for funding and technical assistance for municipalities and partners to address these issues. It also provides recommendations to address the barriers faced by municipalities to implement this work.

The Massachusetts Culverts and Small Bridges Working Group was charged with providing a report to the Massachusetts Legislature with recommendations to replace culverts and small bridges more quickly and cost efficiently with climate resilient structures that withstand storms, improve public safety, and protect and restore natural resources.

Key recommendations of the report include expanding and improving existing state technical assistance and training programs, developing an interagency program to help municipalities navigate the process of culvert and bridge replacement, and providing additional grant funds to municipalities for culvert and bridge replacement projects. The report also recommends revisions to engineering standards, including helpful resources such as standard culvert and small bridge design templates to reduce design and construction costs and streamline permitting and structural review.