Projects could get fast-tracked
The patiently waiting Peabody Square and Dorchester Avenue improvement projects could be bumped to the front of the line with the help of President Obama's proposed nearly $1 trillion economic recovery package.
Mayor Tom Menino announced the formation of a city Economic Recovery Team last week, created to lobby for and distribute federal dollars once the bill is signed. Currently under debate in Congress, the stimulus package is expected to reach the president by mid-February.
Jake Sullivan, the mayor's federal relations officer, has been tapped to lead the team. Sullivan said both the Peabody Square and Dot Ave. projects meet the criteria in the bill for funding.
According to the recovery plan, potential projects must be "shovel-ready," or able to begin within 90 to 180 days and be finished within two years.
"We believe that the city can get these projects right underway," Sullivan said. "There'll be no racing to a bottleneck."
All identified shovel-ready projects in the city total $560 million in construction value, according to the mayor's office, which would create more than 7,800 Boston jobs.
The Dot Ave. and Peabody Square projects have both finished the community input process and design phase. They have already been allocated $5 million and $2.8 million, respectively, in the mayor's capital plan for FY 09-13.
The city council authorized the entire amount for the Peabody Square project and $1 million of the Dot Ave. request. Menino will likely request authorization for the remaining funds in this year's budget, according to his office.
Both projects are slated to break ground in FY 2010, which begins July 1, 2009.
Sullivan said potential stimulus package funding would not push back project timetables. He said it was still unclear if the funding could be used to reimburse projects already underway.
City Councilor Maureen Feeney praised the mayor for organizing the new team.
"I really feel that the competition for every single dollar is going to be so intense that it was very astute of him to go on record saying we're prepared and we have shovel-ready sites identified," she said. "It's something that's going to draw attention in Washington. We're more than capable at taking these federal dollars and putting them to work immediately."
The Dot Ave. project aims to renovate the streetscape at several intersections, including Glover's Corner (Freeport-Hancock-Dot Ave.) and Fields Corner. New lights, trees, crosswalks and street furniture are planned. A total of 10 intersections will receive left-hand turning lanes.
The separate Peabody Square project would reconfigure the street pattern at Dorchester Avenue, Talbot Avenue and Ashmont Street to ease traffic problems, such as frequent back-ups. In addition, the plan will make the location more pedestrian-friendly by improving the streetscape, adding safer crosswalks and building new plazas.
Sullivan would not discuss other specific projects in Dorchester or Mattapan that could benefit from the federal money.
"It's difficult because the rules in the bill are subject to change," he said. "We want to be responsible and not raise expectations if they won't qualify."
Sullivan suggested broader categories that could be funded, such as road and sidewalk repairs.
Obama has called for doubling renewable energy capacity within three years, improving energy efficiency in homes and federal buildings and modernizing water systems. His plan seeks to renovate 10,000 schools, as well as build and repair roads and highways.
Sullivan said additional funding could be available for economic development, foreclosure programs, information technology and community centers.
Sullivan has previous experience lobbying for federal dollars from a stint advocating for Homeland Security funds for the city. The rest of the Economic Recovery Team will include members of the mayor's cabinet and industry professionals.
One major remaining question is how the money will be distributed - whether directly to the city, through the state, or a combination of the two. Menino has argued for direct city aid through programs such as Community Development Block Grants and the Surface Transportation Program.
"There are a lot of unknowns, but we're going to closely follow the legislation through the House and Senate and be as prepared as possible," said Sullivan. "We're a little bit beholden to how the money will flow, but it's going to move quickly. It's a moving target, but we're regularly in touch with our Congressional delegation and we're very organized."
Feeney said the mayor's push for direct funding was efficient and showed leadership.
"I think it is important that we be the first in line and say, 'We're ready. We're here.'"