Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy joined Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, elected officials, business owners and residents in Newton on Feb. 20 to award two grants to the city that aim to improve transportation and infrastructure one block away from the proposed Northland Newton project.
One of the two grants would extend the Upper Falls Greenway, the walking/bike trail that runs parallel to Needham Street, north from Easy Street to Curtis Street (behind National Lumber on Needham Street). Currently the Greenway at this end stops suddenly, truncating safe access to Needham Street and the MBTA Green Line stop in Newton Highlands.
The second grant would result in a significant upgrade of Pettee Square at the intersection of Oak Street and Chestnut Street which could ultimately provide for new traffic signal replacements, new pavement, new concrete sidewalks and other upgrades to this area, located just one block from the proposed Northland Newton development.
The grants, totaling $396,500, are part of the state MassWorks Infrastructure Grant Program and are structured to leverage substantially larger state grants once the design work is completed.
“The MassWorks program allows our administration to make targeted investments in public infrastructure that stimulates significant private funding toward new housing production, commercial development and job creation,” said Baker. “We are pleased to support these two important projects in the City of Newton and this important effort furthers our work together with municipal partners across the state to address the housing crisis.”
Both projects aim to help to ensure residents, employees and visitors can live, work, move around, and play in a safer, more accessible, and more inviting way in the Upper Falls and Needham Street area. The projects aim to improve safety, conditions, sustainability and vitality in the Pettee Square commercial district, and allow pedestrians and cyclists better access to the MBTA and Needham Street by extending the Upper Falls Greenway Trail, with the goal of leveraging more funds in the future.
Both projects are adjacent and complementary to the $30 million MassDOT Needham Street / Highland Avenue Complete Streets upgrades scheduled to begin this spring. That project will improve walkability for pedestrians and reduce conflict points for cars and improve biking safety from Route 9 and Winchester Street, down the length of Needham Street and to the fire station on Highland Ave. in Needham.
Baker acknowledged the projects would also complement and will provide enhanced pedestrian access to a 22.7-acre Northland Newton project that was approved last for redevelopment by a 17-7 super majority of the Newton City Council but faces a referendum challenge on March 3.
"The [nearly] $400,000 we're putting into the Greenway project and Pettee Square is exactly the sort of thing we like to do as a compliment to enhance a significant development project, where in this case you're talking about $500 million initiative," said Baker.
The Northland project is a mixed-use development with 800 units of housing (including 120 affordable and 20 middle-income apartment units), 180,000 square feet of commercial space, and 115,000 square feet of retail. The private project also promotes multi-modal transportation through an electric shuttle available free to the public seven days a week, sixteen hours a day.
“We are eager to see the private developments near our state investments move forward and provide the critically needed new housing residents and the economy need, as well as new commercial and retail opportunities for those who live and work in the area,” said Fuller, who has endorsed the Northland project. “I’m grateful that with the governor’s help we can begin the design and engineering of two important transportation and neighborhood improvement projects in Newton Upper Falls.”
Newton-Needham Regional Chamber President Greg Reibman said the two projects would encourage foot traffic and bring added vitality to Pettee Square and Needham Street.
“Between the MassDOT project on Needham Street and Highland Ave., these new projects and the more than $10 million dollars in private funding for transportation and infrastructure mitigation from Northland, we’re looking at a major upgrade to a section of Newton which already serves as a critical economic engine,” said Reibman.
“We applaud Gov. Baker and his team, as well as Mayor Fuller and her team, for their leadership on both of these forward-leaning projects,” Reibman added.
During the most recent competitive MassWorks round, the Baker-Polito Administration awarded more than $72 million in MassWorks awards to a diverse mix of 36 projects in 35 communities across the Commonwealth, including nine Gateway Cities and eight communities receiving MassWorks funding for the first time.
The awards will unlock a total of $2.3 billion in private investment and more than 4,600 new full-time jobs, along with more than 3,100 new housing units, more than a third of which are affordable, building on the Administration’s efforts to tackle the ongoing housing shortage through complementary programs like historic funding for affordable housing and the proposed Housing Choice legislation. The transformative projects funded by the 2019 awards were selected from 92 applications, totaling $223 million in requests.