Mayor Says Infrastructure Improvements Key to New Bedford’s Future
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell recently returned from the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., and he said infrastructure was a big topic of discussion among the nation's mayors.
In his weekly appearance on WBSM, Mayor Mitchell said more money needs to be devoted to infrastructure.
"There will be some bill that emerges from Congress, and it's probably going to be somewhere between President Trump's $200 billion proposal, and (Senator) Chuck Schumer's $1 trillion proposal," he said. "But it seems like everybody wants to start spending more, but the need is far greater than a trillion dollars, and I think there's a consensus on that."
Mitchell said he's continuing to be a "squeaky wheel" about a number of projects, especially the replacement of the outdated New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge. He said he wants to make sure the bridge is "shovel-ready" as soon as possible, for when the federal infrastructure money comes available.
"Then we can have very competitive applications," he said. "The more design and permitting work done on any big infrastructure project, the more likely it is to get construction funding."
Mitchell said a big reason the bridge needs to be replaced is so that vessels can make it into the northern part of the harbor, creating more jobs and allowing full utilization of the harbor. He noted that a feasibility study conducted three years ago said replacing the bridge with either a vertical lift or drawbridge would cost around $100 million, while repairing the existing bridge for the next 10 years would cost about $46 million.
"So it's kind of a no-brainer to me" to replace the bridge, he said.
Opening up that part of the harbor will be especially important as the city hopes to build out the North Terminal bulkhead to better support fishing, cargo and offshore wind. Mitchell said while everyone knows of the expected impact of offshore wind staging from New Bedford Harbor, he said fishing is also on the increase as well, especially scalloping.
"Over the past three years, we've seen a 67 percent increase in out-of-state vessels landing their fishing in New Bedford," he said. "We need to build out more space. Good infrastructure planning and construction could go a long way to set up the city, not just next year but 10 years, 20 years down the line."
Mitchell also discussed Governor Charlie Baker's promise to see South Coast Rail implemented during the governor's administration. Mitchell said he has not changed his mind that the Phase II plan of building an electric route through Stoughton is the preferred plan, and that the announced Phase I plan to connect New Bedford and Fall River to Boston along the existing Middleboro route is too long of a trip.
"It's a length not a whole lot of people would ride," he said of the route, which would take an estimated 90 minutes from New Bedford to Boston.
But Mitchell said another big issue is that there needs to be some kind of commitment to building a "real, multimodal station" in New Bedford.
"I think most people would be disappointed to learn that there isn't a commitment to a station, there's only a commitment to a platform," he said. "So one of the things that I've raised with people is, you've got to build a real station there. One that includes a bus station, that includes connections to downtown and so forth."
Mitchell also said the coming of South Coast Rail isn't the only thing the city needs. He said it should just be one of many, along with building the North Terminal, replacing the bridge and dredging the harbor.
"People need to understand there's no one thing that should be seen as the end-all, be-all to the city's success," he said. "As a city and as a region, we've fallen into that trap sometimes."