September Quarterly Meeting
Unconscious Bias and Diversity in Planning: The Start of an Important Dialogue
Thursday, September 10, 7pm
The Importance of DLTA Funds in CMRPC's COVID-19 Economic Development Response
The COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown earlier this year took every one of us by surprise at CMRPC. Despite the atmosphere of uncertainty, it soon became clear that CMRPC had the capacity to make a difference during these unprecedented times. This was the point when each planner raised their hand and said “I want to help.”
 
Witnessing the ripple effect that the mandatory closure of businesses and amenities had on the region that we serve was distressing. We knew a rapid response to the increasingly worsening circumstances was necessary. Each planner on the Regional Collaboration and Community Planning team utilized their strengths in the best ways they knew how. Gemma Wilkens, our Data Analyst, compiled all the available data regarding the spread of the virus on a regional level along with the Department of Labor unemployment statistics. Gabe Trevor, the newest addition to the CMRPC team, waded thoroughly through the language of the CARES Act and provided consistent updates. Claire Bayler, our resident graphic designer, planner, and drone pilot, produced an interactive document that could be shared across the region, and even the state, which allows anyone searching for unemployment benefits to match their specific need with an available resource.

Emily Glaubitz stayed on top of the effects of the pandemic on housing in the region and Sarah Adams, our energy planner, compiled a vibrant guide for business owners to help them pivot from a storefront business model to an e-commerce model. Anthony Senesi, our community liaison, promptly shared all of this information on our social media outlets and Constant Contact— making CMRPC a reliable resource for updated information on COVID-19 relief. Ron Barron, Principal Planner, assisted Kerrie Salwa with leading the team and with writing multiple grants to allocate funding towards small businesses in Central Massachusetts. All of the aforementioned work has been captured and promoted in a newly created website.

Every bit of this work was able to be completed, without delay, due to the the Physical Development Committee and funding from the District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) Program. DLTA funding is an integral part of the work that we accomplish at CMRPC, as it allows staff to engage in meaningful projects within our communities in a manner that is not directly guided by State or Federal agency funding. With much work to be done, CMRPC staff continue to embrace the new challenges facing our region with thoughtful planning and community engagement.
Federal Certification Review of CMMPO
Scheduled for Mid-September to be held Virtually
The Central Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CMMPO) transportation planning program will undergo a Federal Certification Review on Tuesday, September 15th and Wednesday, September 16th. The Wednesday session will also encompass the September meeting of the CMMPO, with public participation being the focus topic. The review, which occurs every four years, will be carried out by the US Department of Transportation. Staff from both The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are conducting the review. This time, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the review will be conducted completely virtually using the ZOOM meeting platform.

The CMRPC transportation staff similarly serves as the transportation staff to the CMMPO. This has been the case since 1976. As one of the CMMPO’s abilities and responsibilities is the expenditure of federal planning funds as well as the allocation of both capital and operating transportation-related monies to the region, US DOT periodically assesses the work produced by the staff that has been accomplished through the annual Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP). The review seeks to identify staff successes while also identifying areas of the program that could be improved. As such, the federal officials craft an “action plan”, culminating the review process.

All are welcome to the virtual US DOT certification meetings. Stay tuned for more information on the CMRPC website. 
Accelerating Improvements in Local Public Health
As part of CMRPC’s COVID-19 response, we continue to serve 39 communities in Central Massachusetts that are not associated with a health district, connecting them to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as their financial and communication conduit. CMRPC's COVID-19 public health response is made possible by funds from District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA). In this new role, we have witnessed the faults in the way Local Public Health is structured in Massachusetts. Despite having an extremely dedicated collection of public health officials, a lack of funding, staff, and consistency across the State have made it nearly impossible for Local Public Health to keep up with this crisis.

CMRPC’s Legislative Affairs Committee and Executive Committee both support an action plan from the Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) to accelerate improvements in the Massachusetts local health system, so that it is better prepared to meet future challenges. This proposal is based on the consensus findings and recommendation of the Special Commission on Local and Regional Health, including those now in statute as Chapter 72 of the Acts of 2020, An Act Relative to Strengthening the Local and Regional Public Health System (also known as the State Action for Public Health Excellence, or SAPHE, Act), signed by Governor Baker on April 29, 2020. The Massachusetts Public Health Association is working with legislators on a bill that would aim to put forth a set of statewide minimum public health standards and set the stage for a stream of dedicated state funding to the local public health system.

CMRPC will continue to work with MPHA and the Coalition for Local Public Health to advocate for this legislation in the fall. A summary of the proposal can be found here.

For more information, reach out to Connor Robichaud, Regional Projects Coordinator, crobichaud@cmrpc.org
WRTA Introduces New Shuttle Service Connecting Southbridge, Dudley, and Webster
The WRTA launched its new route serving Southbridge, Dudley, and Webster on Monday, August 3, 2020. This new service was made possible through the MassDOT Workforce Transportation Grant Program, with grant application support and service planning provided by CMRPC Staff. Funding through this grant program will allow the WRTA to initiate, maintain, strengthen, and expand service to the workforce population in these communities.

WRTA Administrator Dennis Lipka said in a recent press release, “We are excited to have the opportunity to expand service to multiple businesses and destinations. It is important to give our riders access to as many destinations as possible. This new service will give riders access to a variety of potential job opportunities, educational opportunities, hospitals, and other amenities they might not normally be able to visit regularly. Riders will also have a direct connection to Worcester and the surrounding communities via WRTA Routes 29 and 42.”  

The new Southbridge, Dudley, and Webster shuttle will serve major destinations including:
Southbridge
  • Big Bunny Plaza
  • Harrington Hospital
  • Mass. Department of Transitional Assistance
  • Quinsigamond Community College
  • MassHire Career Center
  • Big Y Plaza
 Dudley
  • Dudley District Court
  • Dudley Housing Authority
  • Dudley Municipal Complex
Webster
  • Webster Town Hall & Senior Center
  • Harrington HealthCare

The shuttle began as a free service for the month of August 2020. This route will provide connections with WRTA Route 29 (Southbridge), and Route 42 (Webster) with service to the Auburn Mall, Oxford, Worcester, and the WRTA Hub at Union Station. To view the route schedule, please visit the WRTA website. To view an interactive map of the route designed by CMRPC staff, please click here.
Online Toolkit Will Help Central MA Residents Reduce Energy Burdens and GHG Emissions

Does Going Green Cost Too Much Green?
A growing divide in energy affordability and accessibility highlights the need for programs that ensure access to reasonably priced, dependable, and sustainable energy for all. Low- to moderate-income (LMI) households often have the least access to energy-efficient or clean energy technologies – programs that not only provide crucial savings, but can contribute to climate change mitigation and disaster risk reduction.

Moreover, simply staying cool during the scorching summer months is a costly indulgence for nearly 1/3 of U.S. households who struggle to pay their energy bills. According to the Energy Information Administration, 20% of households curtail or forgo spending on necessities like food to pay for utilities, 14% have received a disconnection notice, and 10% keep temperatures at unsafe levels to reduce costs. These are the people who have historically suffered during our most extreme weather; during the catastrophic 1995 Chicago heatwave, 739 citizens in the city’s poorest neighborhoods died over the course of just one week. And, unsurprisingly, these communities will be most at risk to the predicted upsurge in extreme heat associated with climate change. The New York Times has called it “inequity at the boiling point.”

There is a disturbing overlap between those who struggle to pay for energy and those who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, further underscoring how energy efficiency programs can improve living conditions that adversely affect LMI communities. In fact, lack of access to energy may hamper efforts to contain COVID-19 in many parts of the country. The United Nations posits that energy services (powering healthcare facilities, supplying clean water, enabling communications and IT services that preserve connections while maintaining social distancing) are key to preventing and fighting disease.

The recurring threats to quality of life in LMI communities are the result of compounding symptoms including inadequate housing conditions, economic instability, and high energy burdens. Energy efficiency programs can address a variety of factors that affect physical and financial wellbeing. They can reduce exposure to air pollution, moisture and mold, and protect from extreme temperatures. They can lower energy bills, and create jobs in the communities they serve. But how can we as planners, policy-makers and community advocates ensure that these vital programs are accessible and known to those who need them most?

Affordable Access to Clean and Efficient Energy

In 2019, CMRPC was awarded an Affordable Access Regional Coordination (AARC) Grant in the amount of $95,765. Under AARC, DOER’s Green Communities Division funds public technical assistance organizations to develop programs and provide clean energy training to community organizations that support low income populations. The funding has allowed CMRPC staff to increase our knowledge of the Commonwealth’s low income residential clean energy programs, and to develop tools to expand the reach of existing, effective programs.

In collaboration with DOER, the Worcester Community Action Council, the City of Worcester Housing Development Division, the Green Low-Income Housing Coalition/Dismas House, and other local community groups, CMRPC has crafted a toolkit that we hope will address barriers to clean energy investment by the State’s LMI residents. One piece of the toolkit is a Clean Energy Webpage. The page serves as a singular hub for many of the myriad programs offered by the State, investor-owned utilities, municipal light plants, and other organizations that can help households reduce their energy bills, complete necessary weatherization activities, install solar energy, purchase an electric vehicles, or receive rebates for ENERGY STAR appliances. This resource hub will make it easier for households to navigate the application processes for various energy assistance programs, identify next steps, and will provide contact information for program sponsors and community groups that can offer application assistance.

The second piece of the toolkit is an Energy Efficiency Program Finder. The Program Finder is a quiz that will help potential applicants identify programs that will help them accomplish their desired goal (i.e. Lower Energy Bills or Upgrade Heating System). The quiz includes approximately thirty clean energy programs that respondents may qualify for based on their own unique responses. CMRPC utilized Typeform to develop the quiz, and employed logic jumps within the assessment to show respondents only the programs that may be applicable to them. The Program Finder will be featured on the Clean Energy Webpage, and will serve as a jumping off point for families to apply for programs that will reduce energy bills, or for landlords to receive incentives to install electric vehicle charging stations.

By investing in energy efficiency programs in low-income communities, we hope to achieve the following for the CMRPC Region:
  •  improve home health and safety, comfort, and air quality,
  • reduce emissions of GHGs and conventional air pollutants,
  • reduce the disproportionate energy burden faced by many low-income households, and thereby reallocate household funds to meet basic needs and improve quality of life,
§reduce the burden on utilities of unpaid or overdue bills.

Stakeholders Wanted!
Over the next several months, we will be working with our project partners and other community stakeholders to refine these resources, and to host a number of training workshops about the toolkit. If you are interested in being a part of these discussions or workshops, please reach out to Sarah Adams at sadams@cmrpc.org
Brownfields Site Assessments Underway; Resources Still Available 
With the help of CMRPC’s brownfields assessment team, underutilized properties around the region are being investigated and moved toward reuse. In coordination with local officials and property owners, CMRPC’s environmental consultant has completed assessment reports at the former ECC facility in Holden, Linden Street in Spencer, the former Tolman Farm in Berlin, the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, and Guelphwood Road in Southbridge. Assessment of these sites has informed acquisition decisions and reuse planning and is expected to support revitalization of these key locations, protecting human health and the environment and fostering economic development when complete.

Guided by CMRPC’s Regional Brownfields Plan, the site assessment program facilitates revitalization of underutilized properties by investigating the type and extent of contaminants at known or suspected brownfields. Eligible work includes Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments, surveys of hazardous building materials (asbestos, lead paint, etc.), cleanup plans, and related submittals to regulatory authorities. Assessments of eligible sites are conducted as grants of service by CMRPC's licensed consultant, Fuss & O’Neill, Inc. Eligible applicants can include municipalities, community-based organizations, and private parties. Currently, resources remain available for use at sites throughout the region – CMRPC encourages communities and other partners to reach out to us about any sites of interest. A round of site nominations is planned for Fall 2020, date to be determined.

The brownfields program is funded by a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with additional support through the DLTA program to cover certain costs that cannot be paid from the EPA grant. Two other resources are currently open to communities and/or property owners in need of brownfields assistance. MassDevelopment recently announced a new round of funding through its Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, due September 18. EPA recently opened its annual competition for assessment, cleanup and multipurpose grants, due October 28.

To learn more about CMRPC’s brownfields assessment program, see our brownfields webpage or contact Andrew Loew at aloew@cmrpc.org.
How COVID-19 Affected Volume of Traffic in the Region
Boston and the surrounding metropolitan area had the most traffic in the United States according to a 2019 study conducted by INRIX. This claim was supported by the Congestion in the Commonwealth report by MassDOT which found that Route 9 from Worcester to Boston was one of the most consistently congested corridors in Massachusetts. However, when Massachusetts issued a “stay-at-home” advisory on March 23 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic immediately and drastically changed. The chart below shows a comparison of traffic data for a select number of locations between the first week of March (before the stay-at-home order) and in April (during the stay-at-home order).

Due to the drastic change in traffic patterns, the CMRPC Transportation staff suspended the regularly planned traffic-counting season, and instead, developed a traffic monitoring program to study how travel patterns have changed. To accomplish this, a set of high priority locations were selected to be counted regularly through the summer and fall so that the possible rise in traffic volume as Massachusetts continues to re-open could be quantified. In addition to traffic counts conducted by the CMRPC, staff is utilizing the MassDOT traffic count database to monitor volumes recorded at MassDOT continuous counting stations. These locations include Interstates, many state numbered routes, and high volume roads owned by MassDOT. In addition to traffic counts, CMRPC staff have been monitoring the utilization of parking lots at the region’s Commuter Rail stations by conducting vehicle counts on weekdays before the PM commute.

To help distribute the collected data, a set of interactive dashboards has been developed. Click here to view the dashboards.

Table: Data provided by MassDOT through its online traffic-counting database.
A Successful and Informative Environmental Consultation
The CMMPO and CMRPC Staff would like to extend a thank you to those who attended and participated in this year’s Annual Environmental Consultation session. While we were not able to experience the dynamics of an in-person meeting, it was a great success using Zoom. Our guest presenters did wonderful, and their topics complimented each other. It was such a great opportunity to gain valuable insights on pertinent evolving topics, like road-stream crossings (i.e. culverts) and what the Region and State are doing to approach those environmental factors and impacts at the transportation level.

If you happened to miss this year’s Annual Environmental Consultation, that is okay! A full recording of the Consultation is available online, as well as more information from the session, like the presentations, incorporated maps, meeting minutes, and other CMRPC resources. Please visit this link below for more information, including links to previous Environmental Consultation Sessions.

Do you have any further questions or need for additional information? Please contact Assistant Transportation Planner, Zachary Blais (zblais@cmrpc.org), or Transportation Project Manager, Richard Rydant (rrydant@cmrpc.org)  

Photo: Douglas Rail Trail
Girls on the Run Worcester Seeks Sites and Sponsors
CMRPC Principal Planner Sarah Adams will coach her fifth season of Girls on the run this fall – but things will look a little different when the season kicks off later this month. Girls on the Run is a non-profit program that works to encourage the development of self-respect and healthy lifestyles in pre-teen girls through dynamic, interactive lessons as well as through running games, all of which culminates in a celebratory 5k run at the end of the season. Programs are offered twice a week in the spring and fall for girls in Grades 3-5 and 6-8.
 
Since 2015, the Worcester Council has impacted more than 2,100 girls. Last fall alone, more than 250 girls took part in Worcester County. But of the nearly 300 who registered in spring 2020, fewer than 50 were able to take part after the COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to run virtually. With most schools unavailable this fall because of the pandemic, many girls may again have to take part virtually or may not have the opportunity to participate at all. As a result, Girls on the Run is thinking outside the box. Sites this fall will include a residence in Grafton, CrossFit South Central Mass. in Mendon, the Rockdale Youth Center in Northbridge, the outdoor pavilion at the Whitin Community Center in Whitinsville, and Adams looks forward to coaching at Girls Inc. in Worcester. The organization is still seeking more sites to host teams before fall registration opens on Sept. 14. If you are interested in hosting a site this fall, you can learn more here.
 
Registration fees account for most of the operating budget for the organization, but only about 56% of girls pay the full $165 registration fee (last year, the Council awarded more than $33,000 in financial assistance). Girls on the run Worcester County hopes that fall registrations, sponsors, and fundraisers will generate the funding required to continue operating. The organization will host a golf tournament at Shining Rock Golf Club in Northbridge on Sept. 19 to raise money for the upcoming season. The tournament is SOLD OUT and will be very well attended, but Girls on the Run is seeking tournament sponsors! If you are interested in sponsoring or learning more, view the tournament registration information.
 
Girls on the Run’s mission – to create a world where every girl knows her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams – is personal for Adams. “As a planner who specializes in energy.. I know what it feels like to be the only woman in the room. The energy sector is still about 70% male, and it can be really difficult to break that glass ceiling. I want young girls to have the confidence in their academic ability and interpersonal skills to know that they can pursue any career, any dream, any goal that they want! I tell my girls ‘passion makes you powerful’ and Girls on the Run really gives them the tools that they need to pursue their passions with self-assurance and strength.”
 
We here at CMRPC look forward to seeing our region and community groups overcome the challenges that this fall may bring, and leave you with a tried and true Girls on the Run mantra – “You are stronger than you think!”
CMRPC Staff Complete Culvert Assessment Training
To follow up from the first day of ‘shadow assessments’, CMRPC Staff (mentioned in CMRPC’s August Newsletter) met with North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative (NAACC) Level 2 (L2) Regional Coordinator Jake Lehan on August 14, 2020 to complete the rest of the 20 total shadow assessment locations and finish NAACC ‘Lead Observer’ training. In a change of location, the consensus was to use bicycles as a group to more efficiently assess culverts along a DCR Rail Trail, just off of South Street (Route 96) in the Town of Douglas.

After biking for several miles and assessing a number of culverts – all the while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing guidelines – Staff were all able to get enough culvert assessments shadowed by Lehan to complete the NAACC Lead Observer Certification Requirements. With that, all involved CMRPC Staff are now prepared to begin culvert assessments under the NAACC protocol, as well as lead survey teams; coordinate survey materials and schedules; match survey locations to xy codes; enter data into the NAACC Online Database; and ensure that assessments are done safely. In other words, the CMRPC Culvert Assessment Program can begin assessing culverts this fall and into next spring.

In an effort to organize and standardize culvert assessments across the region, especially by working with local stakeholders and communities, Zachary Blais (CMRPC Transportation Assistant Planner, zblais@cmrpc.org) will continue on with more training to become a NAACC ‘Level 1 (L1) Regional Coordinator’. By becoming certified as a NAACC ‘Lead Observer’, and eventually passing a required online coordinator training unit test, Blais will be able to hold a more secure role in leading the Culvert Assessment Program through a regional effort.

To find out more information on the responsibility of Lead Observers, L1 Coordinators and other roles within NAACC, visit this link https://streamcontinuity.org/naacc/about/roles
To find out more about NAACC, visit this link https://streamcontinuity.org/naacc/about

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.