A Letter from CMRPC's Executive Director
Dear Friends,

The COVID-19 pandemic has evolved and escalated quickly. On behalf of our Commission, I sincerely hope you are all safe and healthy as we approach the anticipated surge in coronavirus cases. Please, protect yourselves, and help prevent spreading the virus to others. Stay home, if you are non-essential.

I would be remiss if I did not thank and recognize the extraordinary measures taken by the City of Worcester to help ensure the safety and well-being of people throughout our region.

Thank you to all of the doctors, nurses, health care workers, first responders, public safety personnel, farmers, manufacturers who are producing PPE, boards of health, grocery store workers, truckers, chambers of commerce, foundations, municipal officials and volunteers throughout our region.

With an abundance of caution, we cancelled our March 12 th Quarterly Meeting. On March 17 th we left our office following State directives, and began working remotely 100%. Like many of you, we also quickly transitioned to virtual meeting platforms.
We had no sooner synchronized a virtual office of staff working from home when we received a call from the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) office asking for help with the Baker-Polito Administration’s initial $5 million emergency funding to unaffiliated local boards of health to support their response to the COVID-19 virus. Thanks to our regional connections and capable staff, we were able—without ever leaving home -- to quickly distribute two allocations of $250,000 each of emergency funding to 39 unaffiliated municipal boards of health in Central Massachusetts. Special thanks to the DPH for your guidance and support throughout this process. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Massachusetts, please visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's COVID-19 Resources page . CMRPC has also created a regional COVID-19 resources and information page.

Soon thereafter, we were contacted by the Economic Development Administration (EDA), alerting us to regional applications for funding available from the CARES Act . We are collaborating with regional partners to conduct a survey for small businesses and local organizations to help measure the economic impact of COVID-19 in Central Mass. The information received from the business impact survey will be used to identify specific and immediate regional needs. All of this information will be included in our regional Cares Act grant application to the EDA. The survey and specific details will also be used to seek other funding opportunities to support economic development and recovery.

I am happy to say that most programs are moving according to schedule. For example, the CMMPO is preparing to share its draft 2021- 2025 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) plan at its April 22 meeting as scheduled; in early March we submitted three Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) requests totaling $1,661,200 for improvements in our region; our homeland security staff continues to be in touch with colleagues in the field to help with resources; transportation staff has been collaborating the WRTA to help communicate changes in schedules. Most important, virtual meetings and teleconferences are happening on a daily basis to ensure our contracts in the Transportation, Economic Development, Green Communities, Municipal Vulnerability, Regional Services and other important programs are completed in a timely manner.

Just know that we are all in and continuing to seek ways to help. Feel free to contact any of us with questions and concerns. To quote Deputy Director Sujatha Krishnan at our virtual Executive Committee Meeting, March 26, “We are open for business.”

Take care,

Janet A. Pierce
Executive Director
CMRPC to Serve as Regional Contact For Dispensing DPH Emergency Funding
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has contracted with CMRPC to serve as the designated regional entity for dispensing $500,000 in funds to 39 unaffiliated communities in Health & Medical Coordinating Coalition (HMCC) Region 2 in Central Massachusetts. The funds are part of a $5 million state-wide emergency distribution announced, March 17, by the Baker-Polito Administration.

CMRPC mailed the first installment of $250,000 on March 26th to designated recipients in each municipality. The second installment of $250,000 was disbursed on April 6th.

At the outset of this program, CMPRC contacted the Administration’s list of eligible municipalities and asked them to respond to a survey aimed at determining need. Information obtained from the survey was the defining factor used by CMRPC and the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) in determining the proportionate allocation of the available funding. The CMRPC is also responsible for assuring that the funds get to the appropriate local recipients.

In a public statement issued at the time of the announcement, Gov. Baker said the first distribution was intended to address the immediate needs of the Commonwealth’s community health boards. “Additional funding will support COVID-19 public health emergency resources in cities and health districts that have sufficient capacity to receive and utilize funding,” he said.

In a virtual meeting with community health boards on March 26, Connor Robichaud, Regional Projects Coordinator, CMRPC underscored the urgency with which the Commission is working to get the funding for the municipalities: “At first, we had planned to hand-deliver the checks, but the Administration’s most recent directives regarding the health care crisis made that inadvisable.”

The community board of health representatives, who attended the virtual meeting, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to network with their peers and trade information. 

Robichaud set a second virtual board of health meeting for Thursday, April 2 at 2 pm. “As soon as we get answers to some of your questions, we will communicate this information to everyone, “he said. We plan to stay abreast of the situation and keep our contacts apprised of next steps,” he added.

For more information on upcoming meetings and instructions for being included on the board of health communication list, contact Connor Robichaud: crobichaud@cmrpc.org
Small Business Resources from CMRPC

CMRPC has created an online assessment for small businesses . A small business owner can use this assessment to be walked through the eligibility requirements and details of relief support. The online assessment will be continuously updated.

We've compiled a helpful resource guide of Federal, State, Local, Regional aid opportunities.

While we are practicing social distancing, a social media presence becomes more important for businesses in our region. We've compiled resources to master social media.

If you or a business owner has any questions or concerns regarding resource opportunities contact Kerrie Salwa ksalwa@cmrpc.org
Dianna Provencher –A Pioneering Spirit
If you have a dream, and follow that dream, and work very hard it will sometimes amaze you how things fall together. That’s Dianna Provencher’s story.

Dianna Provencher is one of 11 children from a loving French-Canadian American family that went through very difficult times. She is not one to dwell on the past, however. As a single, working mom with two children she earned degrees from two colleges. Eventually this led to her job as Business Manager at CMRPC, which she is departing on June 30, to spend more time on her farm.

To operate a farm was her dream for as long as she can remember, although she had no experience whatsoever in farming. In 1986, when she was in her 30s, she and her husband Bruce scraped together enough money to buy a 7.8-acre piece of uncultivated land in Leicester, Mass. They called it “Little Bit” farm, which aptly describes how it came together: Little bit, by little bit.

A Real Farm and a House with Hardwood Floors

The topsoil was thin and rocky. Trees were in all the wrong places. There was no house, no driveway, no real reason to believe that this place could become a home and a farm. But Provencher was relentless. She wanted a real farm and a house with hardwood floors. She and Bruce, both working full-time jobs, spent nearly every free minute on the land, enriching the topsoil with compost; pulling rocks out each spring to plant vegetables, flowers and fruit trees; opening an apiary in 1998; and digging up and replanting trees to make room for a house. It took two years to build the house.

Family helped. Neighbors helped. Even strangers helped. One day, when Provencher was working on the land, she spied a man with a large earth mover at the edge of her property. She ran to him and asked what it would cost to create a driveway. He gave her an estimate; she thanked him and walked away discouraged. Some days later, she came back to find that someone had carved out a driveway up to the spot where they were building their home.

“I never knew his name”, she said. “I only know that people can be very kind.”

A Career in Local Leadership

Provencher has spent a lifetime paying thoughtfulness forward: Eighteen years on the Leicester Conservation Committee; a Leicester selectman since 2005 and president of the Worcester County Selectman Association since 2017. She is also a member of the Leicester Business Association and of the Leicester Lion’s Club, where she assists with the children’s Halloween party every year.

In her spare time, she is manager of the Leicester Farmer’s Market, where you can find her on Saturdays from mid-June to October 31, selling vegetables, flowers, plants, and bee-products: honey, hand cream, lip balm, candles. Customers have been coming back for more than 25 years for the turkeys she raises to sell at Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there is her career with CMRPC, where she manages the budget: paying bills, disbursing paychecks and looking up from whatever she is doing to answer the dozens of questions a day from her colleagues. Provencher knew about the Commission through her work with the Town of Leicester. She accepted a job in the Commission’s business department in 2008 just months before the current Executive Director, Janet Pierce, joined as business manager. That same year Sujatha Krishnan and Trish Settles joined the agency. The four women constitute the present-day management team.

Of the many projects she has worked on, Provencher’s favorite is ( wait for it ): Central Mass Grown , a successful regional effort to bring local farmers’ produce to more markets. Together, Pierce as executive director, Provencher as business manager, and Krishna and Settles as deputy directors have built the agency to where it is today.

Provencher says she is not a person to look back. When she does, she gets choked up and annoyed with herself. “I love this job, especially the people. I love so many of the programs we have created together. But there are other things that I have to accomplish and it is time to move on.” 

Dianna loves to dress up in costume for special events to the delight of friends and co-workers. Here she is at Halloween 2019 as the Mad Hatter. Her home in Leicester has the brightest lights at Christmas.

Shea Joins CMRPC as Business Manager
Diane Shea, comptroller, grants manager and disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) liaison with the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA), has accepted the position of business manager with CMRPC, effective April 1.  She succeeds Dianna Provencher, a 12-year veteran of the Commission who is retiring on June 30.

Shea has 30 years of accounting, general ledger and payroll experience. Since 2009, she has held the positions of chief financial officer, manager of finance and grants and staff accountant at the WRTA.

Her appointment was ratified by the CMRPC Executive Committee at its March 26 meeting.
TIP 2021-2025 Schedule Update
In view of the Governor’s guidance regarding COVID-19, the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Organization (CMMPO) held a virtual meeting on March 25, which included the Transport Improvement Program (TIP) Workshop to review all projects eligible for the 2021-2025 cycle. At present it is planned that draft results will be announced on April 22, according to schedule, and meeting arrangements will be publicized in advance.

At the March 25 meeting, staff presented their recommended option for the Draft 2021-2025 TIP highway project listing, while also presenting three other scenarios. Due to a few projects not being ready for their currently programmed year, and cost increases on numerous projects, all options contained projects that were being pushed back to later years.

At the conclusion of the meeting, CMMPO members reached consensus to move forward with the staff’s recommended option. Participants also discussed draft listings of statewide highway projects as well as WRTA transit projects.

The completed draft 2021-2025 TIP document is expected to be made available at the April 22 meeting. CMMPO members will review the draft prior to the meeting. As in past years, the draft document will available for public review and comment for 21 days after it has been released.
Shrewsbury Rt. 20 Master Plan Reviewed at Local Meeting
Nearly two decades ago, a CMRPC study identified the Route 20/ Grafton St. intersection in Shrewsbury as a location that required improvement. This recommendation is approaching reality as a part of MassDOT’s Shrewsbury Rt. 20 Corridor Master Plan, which was presented for comment to the town of Shrewsbury last month.

Calling the Master Plan a “guidebook”, Barry Lorion, MassDOT Highway Division District 3 director, stressed that while the plan does not include funding, it sets the parameters for the funding of forthcoming projects. He also noted that Rt. 20 is a lengthy section of roadway and the best course for its improvement is one section at a time.

The three most likely improvement projects include:

1)       Route 20/ Grafton Street Intersection improvements to address congestion, safe t y, pavement, freight transportation accommodation s as well as adaptations for pedestrians and bicyclists. This is a high crash location eligible for dedicated federal safety funds.
2)       Route 20/Lake Street Intersection improvement and expansion to accommodate the redevelopment of the Edgemere Drive-In. Jointly funded by Edgemere Developer and MassWorks grant.
3)       Route 20 segment between South St. and Valente Drive. This is a new potential project to address safety issues on the section of Rt. 20 between these intersections. Funding prospects have not yet been determined.

The Route 20 Master Plan incorporates a wide range of potential improvements along the corridor to address existing safety issues, accommodate anticipated future growth, and provide accommodation for users of all travel modes. Key proposals include two travel lanes in each direction on Route 20; additional turning lanes at signalized intersections; traffic signal improvements; and pedestrian and bicyclist facilities.
For more information about the Shrewsbury Rt. 20 Master Plan and next steps contact:

WRTA has Joined the Fight Against the COVID-19
The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) has announced that it is working hard to support the communities it serves in their war against COVID-19.

In keeping with federal and state advisories the WRTA has intensified its regular cleaning schedule at its Hub at Union Station. WRTA buses are thoroughly cleaned each night, with all onboard surfaces disinfected regularly throughout the day. Onboard with social distancing, the WRTA is limiting the number of passengers inside the facility to 10 at a time. 

All of this is taking place even though travel is down. Late last month (March 25) the WRTA announced that all weekday routes will be running on a Saturday schedule. Certain community routes and shuttles will continue to operate on weekday schedules and select routes are operating on a modified Saturday schedule to provide additional trips. All Saturday and Sunday buses will operate on a Sunday schedule until further notice.  So, passengers best check bus schedules before planning a trip.

As of Wednesday, April 1, all passengers entering and exiting buses will be permitted to do so through the rear door only. Front door boarding will be conserved for customers with accessibility needs. The WRTA will also temporarily suspend enforcement of their fare policy at this time. 

American with Disabilities Act (ADA) complementary paratransit service remains unchanged. Local Council of Aging (CoA) service varies by community, with some CoA’s opting to suspend service while others are limiting trips to morning grocery shopping, medical appointments and other trips deemed critically necessary.

Virtual Meetings of Note in April
CMMPO Public Meeting, April 8 at 5 PM: TIP Amendment # 3

CMMPO Meeting, April 22 at 4 PM: Draft TIP 2021-2025 Cycle

CMMPO Advisory Committee meeting, April 29 at 3:00PM

CMRPC Transportation Planning Committee, April 30 at 6:00PM

All meetings will be virtual. Instructions for joining the meetings will be announced several days prior, on CMRPC's website calendar.
Keeping Up with the CMRPC
Wondering what innovations are next on the horizon for your town?

We have a dashboard for that.  CMRPC’s Principal Planner Rob Raymond, dashboard and map developer extraordinaire, has designed this easy tool to learn about the plans that are being made, and the projects that are being accomplished through CMRPC in your town and region.   You can find this dashboard here.
For more information and additions contact: rraymond@cmrpc.org

CMRPC is the Regional Planning Agency for the City of Worcester and 39 Surrounding Municipalities in Southern Worcester County. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in the region.
If you have any questions about the newsletter, please contact  jpierce@cmrpc.org or 508.756.7717.