Upcoming Meetings and Events
  • March Quarterly Meeting, March 12th, 2020 Blackstone Heritage Corridor Visitor Center, Worcester, MA
  • Annual Meeting, Highfields Golf and Country Club, June 11th, 2020
U.S. Census Spokesman Discusses Importance of Census Counts
Christopher Celozzi, featured speaker at the CMRPC Quarterly Meeting in Auburn, January 9, 2020, said he “can’t over-emphasize” the importance of counting every single man, woman and child residing in every city, town and township in Massachusetts. He praised the use of “Complete Count Committees” in communities across the state to assure an all-inclusive tally.

Celozzi, a partnership specialist with the New York Regional Census Center, told attendees at a packed Auburn Town Hall that “your population number will influence your plans and prospects for the next 10 years.” A “complete population count”, he said, will not only verify the amount of state funding you should receive over the next decade, it may also protect your community’s voice in your state legislature and in Congress.

Census Bureau to Allow Online Participation in 2020

This year is the first time that the U.S. Census Bureau will allow citizens to register online. Requests for information will go out by mail in March and will be followed up in May by Census “enumerators” who will visit homes that had not yet responded. Celozzi assured the audience that the Census Bureau is taking every precaution to protect the privacy of all who participate in the 2020 Census.

Help Available for Complete Count Committees and GIS Projects

CMRPC Principal Planner Rob Raymond, who followed Celozzi with a presentation entitled “Data Drives Central Mass.”, said the Commission is working with townships to develop and follow through with Complete Count Committees. It was one example of how CMRPC uses data to support the 40 communities in its service region. Raymond also discussed new ways to present data, including community data snapshots, which are popular with towns and businesses to site housing, advance economic development, upgrade transportation and meet many other research and communication needs.

CMRPC GIS Analyst Matt Franz reviewed a selection of some of the many GIS services CMRPC has to offer its member municipalities. The list of services or activities that the CMRPC GIS program engages in included assessor and zoning maps, data analysis such as community buildout models, trail mapping, GIS software training, map production for planning reports such as Master Plans & OSRP’s and online mapping using ESRI’s ArcGIS Online (AGOL) platform. He noted that there is a growing demand for trail and recreation maps.

For more information on how your community can form a Complete Count Committee, or develop transportation related data such as traffic counts and pavement management, or to learn more about the CMRPC Data Snapshot project, contact Rob at rraymond@cmrpc.org.

To learn more about the CMRPC GIS program and what it can do for your community contact Matt at mfranz@cmrpc.org .
CMRPC Announces Results of First Round of DLTA Funding
The CMRPC’s Physical Development Committee met on January 16, 2020 to approve an outlay of $183,335 in its first round of District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) funding for municipal projects and goals in its service territory. The funds are distributed annually to regional planning agencies through the state legislature with the support of the Governor of Massachusetts.

Funds remain for a second distribution, which is set for the Committee’s March 19 meeting. Proposals are due on or before March 12.

Results of the first round of DLTA applications are as follows:
Cybersecurity 101: Addressing Threats to Local Government Course
The Central Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (CRHSAC), staffed by CMRPC, is supporting the Office of the Inspector General’s MCPPO Cybersecurity 101: Addressing Threats to Local Government course. This one day course goes over some of the tools available to reduce local government exposure to cyber-attack. This class also includes some best practices for procuring information technology (IT) services, as well as information on data encryption, malware protection, and data backup.

The CRHSAC will be reimbursing up to 50 people from the Central Region (Worcester County) for the cost to attend the class ($200). The course will be held March 10 th, 2020 at Anna Maria College. More information and a link to register for the course can be found here. Please contact Conor McCormack, Homeland Security Program Coordinator, with any questions at cmccoramck@cmrpc.org
Two from CMRPC Present At TRB National Meeting
The Transportation Research Board (TRB), which celebrated its 100 th anniversary this year, typically attracts thousands of the best minds in transportation to its annual conference in Washington, D.C. Literally, every conceivable transportation topic, from inter-stellar space travel to better biking trails, appears on the roster of some 5,000 presentations scheduled each year. Careers are made or accelerated by presentations at the TRB National Meeting.

So, imagine the excitement with which CMRPC Deputy Director Sujatha Krishnan and Principal Planner Yahaira Graxirena reacted to their own invitation to present at the 2020 TRB Conference in January. The invitation came courtesy of MassDOT, which recognized fresh thinking in the team’s 2019 Long- Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Their presentation was entitled: Meaningful Public Outreach to LEP Populations: Applying Data Granularity to the Regional Safe Harbor Threshold . In a big way it represents both women’s view on mobility planning for an increasingly diverse New England population.

 “Our preliminary research uncovered the presence of refugees from at least 24 countries in our region. This presented a major change from earlier transportation plans,” Krishnan said. “The majority were from Southeast Asia and Africa but there are many small groups of limited English speakers in our region. Thus, for reasons of increased user perspective and equity, we decided to focus more closely on this ‘granularity’ in our transportation user population in developing our 2019 plan.”

Their goal was to include feedback from Limited English Proficiency (LEP) populations in all 40 communities in their region. CMRPC communities are mostly small, thus Safe Harbor Threshold guidelines for communities with LEP populations of five percent, or 1,000 individuals, did not always apply. Krishnan’s and Graxirena’s plan included communities with LEP populations of at least one percent or more.

Graxirena, who was responsible for much of the outreach, admits it was not easy to access the many, small groups they sought. “We spoke at meetings by agencies such as Centro Las Americas, African Community Education, and the Southeast Asian Coalition,” she said. They also published information in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Swahili, which are the region’s top five Safe-Harbor Threshold languages for (LEP) populations, and placed them in public locations throughout the region.

The response was enough to stimulate a remarkable shift in accepted planning priorities placing new emphasis on the needs of individuals without cars. For the first time, the CMRPC’s Long Range Transportation Plan’s top five priorities included concerns about pedestrians, bicyclists and transit networks. In order of concern, the CMRPC Long-Range Transportation lists the four major priorities as 1) Road Maintenance, 2) Non-Motorized Transportation (pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, 3) Transit Network, 4.) Congestion, and 5) Safety.

Graxirena said the poster presentation drew an interested audience with queries in two areas. “The researchers were primarily interested in how we derived our population information; practitioners wanted information on our methodology.” She believes the interest augurs well for LEP populations in future transportation planning.

“I think we made an impression,” Krishnan added. “At the same time, we were able to bring back home the good ideas and lessons acquired from so many other transportation planning programs with issues similar to those in our communities.”

Photo: CMRPC’s Yahaira Graxirena (left) and Sujatha Krishnan pose with the poster they developed for their presentation at the national Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., January 12-16.
The TIP 2021-2025 Schedule Moves Forward
Three New Projects Proposed for 2025
Central Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization (CMMPO) staff have qualified three new community projects for the 2021-2025 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) kicking off the approval schedule for the new year, according to Kevin Krasnecky, CMRPC principal planner. The projects are in Northborough, Shrewsbury and Worcester.

 “The three proposed projects have succeeded in the first step for TIP programming,” said Krasnecky. “The next steps are to meet with staff from the participating agencies, primarily MassDOT, to discuss the status of all assigned CMMPO TIP projects.” This meeting will take place in February.

“All 2021-2025 planning decisions will depend on our assigned budget moving forward, and the readiness of projects included in earlier cycles to commence in their allotted year,” Krasnecky said.

The Transportation Improvement Program is the state’s federally required rolling, five-year capital investment program conducted by the Central Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization, which was established in 1976 to facilitate comprehensive transportation planning. The CMRPC is one of ten members of the CMMPO, and also provides staffing to the organization.

A “TIP Workshop”, which will be open to the public, is tentatively planned for the CMMPO meeting, March 18, 2020, at 4 pm at CMRPC offices (One Mercantile St., Ste. 520 Worcester, Mass.). The workshop will review the eligible projects and recommend placement for the TIP 2021-2025 cycle.

A draft of the 2021-25 Transportation Improvement Program will tentatively be released at the April CMMPO meeting, April 22, 2020. This will be subject to a 21-day public review and comment. In May, during the comment period for the TIP draft, there will be a public meeting to again discuss CMMPO TIP projects. Once endorsed, the TIP 2021-2025 schedule will be reviewed and approved by the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, to be in place by October 1, 2020.

Any TIP-related questions or concerns should be addressed to Keven Krasnecky: kkrasnecky@cmrpc.org.
Award Supports WRTA Service in CMRPC Region
The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) has been awarded $72,000 in operating funds to provide service to senior citizens and people with disabilities in Central Massachusetts. In addition, the WRTA will receive funding to purchase 11 new, wheelchair- accessible vans.

The operating funds will be used for three projects: 1) service from Holden to Worcester in the early morning and late evening; 2) service in 22 rural communities for medical trips to Worcester; and, 3) service for people who live and work in Southbridge, Spencer, Sturbridge, and Webster.

The funding comes to the WRTA from the MassDOT Community Transit Grant Program. The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission assisted in the preparation of the grant application. This annual competitive grant program distributes Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding to support the enhanced mobility of seniors and individuals with disabilities and State Mobility Assistance Program (MAP) funds.

For more information contact Connie Mellis: cmellis@cmrpc.org

Rich Rydant: CMRPC’s Highwayman
As a small boy in the late sixties and early seventies, Rich Rydant was fascinated with the major highways being built throughout Massachusetts. Adding to the appeal was the fact that his stepfather, a civil engineer, was involved in this highway development.

The attraction to highway design and construction propelled him to earn a degree in civil engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1986.  By that time, the Massachusetts highway building boom had slowed. Massachusetts’ last major interstate projects at that time, I-190 and I-395, were essentially complete.

This was not, however, the end of the road, so to speak. Rich knew that once the highways were built, it would lead him on an exciting career of maintaining, preserving, expanding and ensuring the safety of the many major roads that course through the state.

His first job was with an engineering consulting firm conducting project impact studies as businesses, large and small, continued building offices, retail complexes and living spaces off of the new highways.  The work included safety studies, traffic studies, and cost projections. It was critical to assure efficient and effective traffic progression to and from the new buildings, shopping centers, and growing towns that dotted the new roadways. One highlight at this stage of his career was participating in the project impact study for the 125 High Street skyscraper in downtown Boston. Nice work for a young man.

On the Roads with CMRPC

In 1990, he joined the Transportation Department of CMRPC. At that time the team had about six members as compared to today’s team of more than one dozen members under the leadership of Deputy Executive Director Sujatha Krishnan.

This career move expanded his world to intermodal transportation. Small towns in Central Massachusetts were clamoring for more business development. Now his work would encompass the full scope of transportation: trucks, trains, automobiles and even an airport or two. Rich worked on the Route 9 traffic study through Worcester, Leicester and Spencer completed in 1992. His work led to signal upgrades in many areas, a median strip at the Webster Square Plaza and the realignment of the hazardous Strawberry Hill curve In Leicester, which reduced the number of vehicle crashes in the area.

Rich particularly enjoyed working on projects with the region’s short line, freight-hauling railroads notably the Providence & Worcester Railroad (now operated by the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad, Inc.) and the East Brookfield & Spencer Railroad, served by rail giant CSX. He was involved in planning for the New England Automotive Gateway project that brought automobiles by rail from manufacturers in the Midwest to car dealers in Massachusetts.

The Redemption Rock Trail

Between 2006 and 2010, Rich managed the Rt. 140 corridor study through the towns of Sterling, Princeton and Westminster. Called the Redemption Rock Trail for its role in the disastrous 17 th Century armed conflict between European settlers and Native Americans, this narrow, winding roadway has lately become a popular route from towns in North Central Massachusetts to Worcester and places south. During peak travel times, the small towns along the corridor, and the roads feeding into it, are regularly congested with traffic, sometimes traveling at unsafe speeds.

Based on CMRPC’s recommendations from that study, work is presently underway in Princeton to replace a major substandard intersection with a modern roundabout and to add sidewalks, new lighting and improved roadways to the small village of East Princeton. Rich and his team were recognized by the Town of Princeton for their work leading to the improvements.

Rich says his 30-year history with CMRPC is a “reward in itself “, because “the results are cumulative.” He explains “We complete a study here, a plan there, and a few years later you look back and see that our recommendations are being implemented and over time things are greatly improved. It all adds up.”

Rich is a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and has lectured at a range of transportation forums and academic events. A transportation history buff, Rich will contribute articles from time to time in this newsletter on Massachusetts’ transportation past.

Photo: Rich Rydant, on the job, leading a corridor profile study on Route 31 in Paxton.
See How High She Flies
On a beautiful snowy day in Worcester’s Green Hill Park, CMRPC’s Drone Team practiced flying their new aircraft.  Here’s a link to let you share the experience.

CMRPC purchased the Mavic Pro 2 drone to expand its transportation and regional planning capacity. For information on how you can work with CMRPC to integrate the Mavic Pro 2 into your planning capabilities contact: Claire Bayler cbayler@cmrpc.org or Zack Blais zblais@cmrpc.org
Birthplace of the Great American Valentine Industry: A Mostly True Story
For years, two Massachusetts cities – Worcester and Grafton – each claimed to be the birthplace of the Great American Valentine Card.

Grafton historians claimed that Jotham Taft, a local resident, started producing the first American valentines in a small shop in their Central Massachusetts town. He is the true “Father of the American Valentine” said Grafton. But Worcester said “Oh no!”. Esther Howland is the true “Mother of the American Valentine.” She is said to be the first American to produce ornate valentines like those made in Europe.

Here are their stories. In all fairness, though, there was much less information available on Jotham than on Esther, who is also said to be “The Mother of the American Professional Woman”. Fortunately, the story has a Happy Valentine’s Day ending.

Historians from both localities agree that prior to the 1840s, all American-made valentines were home-made. For an extra-special commercial valentine, buyers had to look overseas. A Grafton Facebook entry holds that Mr. Taft studied commercial valentines on a family trip to Europe and began producing his own in 1844. This story suggests that Esther Howland, the heroine of Worcester’s valentine story, may even have worked for Taft at one time. (Grafton’s Facebook page seems to be the only source for this claim.)

Worcester’s story, as related by Wikipedia and the New England Historical Society, sets the valentine industry’s American beginnings in 1847 when 19-year-old Esther, a Worcester resident and recent graduate of Mt. Holyoke Academy, received a valentine card from one of her father’s business associates. It bore a lovely red border with a sentimental verse and was made in England. 

Ms. Howland looked the card over, read the verse, and felt her heart begin to palpitate. “I can do better than that,” she said.

Working from her family’s established stationery shop, she designed a dozen samples of frilly European-style valentines hoping for $200 in orders. The story goes that her salesman brother brought back $5,000 in orders their first year. (This last figure is disputed by some.) Over the years her cards were known for their lavishness. Some sold for as much as $50. According to Worcester, this was the true beginning of a business that made their city the center of the commercial valentine industry for nearly 100 years. Since 2001, the U.S. Greeting Card Association has been awarding an annual “Esther Howland Award” for a greeting card visionary.

These days, historians gloss over the debate pointing out that both entrepreneurs’ stories are greater than the dispute over origins. Ms. Howland merged her trend-setting business with that of Mr. Taft’s in 1879 forming the New England Valentine Co. In 1881, The George C. Whitney Co. acquired the New England Valentine Co. and prospered until 1942 when wartime paper shortages led to the liquidation of what the Worcester Historical Museum characterizes as “the largest greeting card company in the world” at that time. 

Thus, “Mother” and “Father” married in Massachusetts, and raised a large legacy. That’s a real valentine story!

Photo: Esther Howland valentine entitled “Affection”, circa 1870.

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.