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News Briefs: Mass. Senate approves funding for opioid prevention services; Mass. Senate provides funding for Berkshire FLYER; Mass. Senate to review small bridge repair regulations

By Wednesday, May 30, 2018 News

Mass. Senate approves funding for opioid prevention services

Boston — Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has announced that the Massachusetts Senate Thursday adopted his amendment No. 1150 to the fiscal year 2019 state budget, providing $150,000 in funding to support opioid prevention services in Berkshire County.

Hinds is a member of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, which reviews legislative proposals on the topic. Hinds secured $150,000 to support the operations and programs of the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative. The Senate’s adoption of Hinds’ amendment for BOAPC marks the first time the organization — a strategic partnership begun in 2013 among the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Railroad Street Youth Project and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition — has been in line to receive a direct appropriation from the state.

This funding will enable BOAPC to focus on an expanding a post-overdose engagement pilot program, work with Fairview Hospital on an opioid-prescribing pilot study and support active case management to prevent recidivism as well as organize training and education for community partners and their staff, increasing the capacity of Berkshire County to address opioid-related issues.

According to data from BOAPC, Berkshire County has some of the highest rates of opioid-related hospital visits and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Massachusetts, and unintentional overdose deaths have more than doubled since 2012. Historically, because of low population density, the Berkshires have not qualified for many of the available substance misuse-related prevention or treatment grant-funding streams that more urban areas are able to access.

FY 2019 will begin Sunday, July 1. A six-member conference committee will be appointed to negotiate a final FY 2019 budget for approval by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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Mass. Senate provides $100,000 to ensure Berkshire FLYER pilot service begins by 2020

Boston — Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, announced that the Massachusetts Senate Thursday adopted his amendments, Nos. 1191 and 1194, to the fiscal year 2019 state budget to continue the efforts of the Berkshire FLYER Working Group to ensure a pilot service connecting New York City to the Berkshires via a one-seat train ride launches no later than 2020. The continued efforts will be coordinated locally by a subcommittee of the working group, co-chaired by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and 1Berkshire, and are funded by $100,000 secured by Hinds in the Senate budget.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation chaired the Berkshire FLYER Working Group, established in the fiscal year 2018 budget, which was charged with identifying and evaluating the economic and cultural benefits and the political, legal or logistical challenges to establishing direct seasonal weekend passenger rail service between New York City and the city of Pittsfield. Hinds modeled his proposal on the successful CapeFLYER passenger rail service, which travels from Boston’s South Station to Hyannis on Cape Cod during summer weekends.

The preferred route identified by the working group requires no new capital infrastructure investments, utilizes tracks currently used by Amtrak for passenger rail and employs existing service from New York City to the Albany/Rensselaer station before continuing on to Berkshire County. The service would be a one-seat ride spanning approximately 3.5 hours, with amenities like wireless internet and food and drink service.

In its final report, the Berkshire FLYER Working Group identified implementation actions to consider in order to properly prepare for a pilot service. Thursday, Hinds secured the establishment of a subcommittee of the working group, to be tasked with actions including identifying and evaluating the issues, costs, needs and benefits of existing and non-existing transportation alternatives in Berkshire County for visitors who arrive at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center in Pittsfield from New York City; making recommendations to improve ground transportation alternatives for riders, ensuring that the riders have reasonable access to transportation options to arrive at their next points of destination in the Berkshires; collaborating with representatives from the ride-sharing industry and other public and private transportation providers in Berkshire County to develop those recommendations; collecting and evaluating data on ridership from New York City to Pittsfield; developing a marketing strategy, in collaboration with individuals and businesses who are employed in the hospitality industry and transportation industry, to promote the seasonal rail service between New York City and the Berkshires; and identifying and developing private partnerships to potentially support a pilot season of passenger rail service in calendar year 2020.

The subcommittee has been directed to begin its work no later than Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, and issue a report of recommendations by Friday, March 1, 2019.

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Mass. Senate creates working group to review regulations governing culvert, small bridge repair

Boston — Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, announced that the Massachusetts Senate Thursday adopted his Amendment 1193 to the fiscal year 2019 state budget to establish a working group tasked with reviewing existing state environmental rules and regulations, engineering standards and permitting processes and their impact on the replacement and repair of culverts and small bridges measuring less than 20 feet long. The working group, chaired by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in conjunction with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, will make recommendations to implement cost-effective policies and procedures for the replacement or repair of the culverts and bridges in an expedited manner and to make improvements in storm resiliency and natural resource connectivity that studies the degrees of risk, ecological value, cost and efficient permitting.

While MassDOT administers the Municipal Small Bridge Program to assist towns with the costs of maintenance projects for bridges that span 10 to 20 feet, there is no such program for culverts, which often look and function like bridges but measure less than 10 feet long.

The amendment is a bipartisan effort to identify ways to help small towns with these issues and is co-sponsored by Sens. Donald Humason, R-Westfield; James Welch, D-West Springfield; Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton; and Anne Gobi, D-Spencer.

According to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, there are 4,827 known culverts in Berkshire County, 25 percent of which have been evaluated as to their conditions. Of that 25 percent, 188 culverts — or 4 percent—are in poor condition while 746 — or 15 percent — are listed in fair condition.

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