Infrastructure Bill Could Fund Massachusetts Broadband

A $1.5 trillion infrastructure construction bill introduced Thursday in Washington by House Democrats could bring faster Internet to rural central and western Massachusetts as well as east-west rail.

by Jim Kinney, The Republican / June 19, 2020
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(TNS) — A $1.5 trillion infrastructure construction bill introduced Thursday in Washington by House Democrats including U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield could fund the transition away from fossil fuels, bring faster internet to rural central and Western Massachusetts as well as east-west rail.

Neal, D-Springfield, mentioned east-west train service from Boston through Springfield, during the news conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and other committee leaders Thursday.

Called the Moving Forward Act, it’s meant to be part of the nation’s coronavirus response, stimulating the economy and building communities as a way to recover from the economic toll.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee, took the lead at the press conference and has agreed to visit Neal’s district, Neal said.

Neal will discuss the bill during a Friday morning news conference at Springfield Union Station.

The bill -- which would need the president's signature and to pass the Senate to become law -- includes $19 billion for rail expansion, Neal, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee said in a telephone interview.

"So the state would have to apply for it," Neal said. "But we think that based on the plan that would be submitted and how far along we are with the planning we feel that would be a great opportunity for us."

This infrastructure plan follows an earlier plan Democrats introduced before the coronavirus pandemic.

Plans for expanded east-west service are chugging along. Last week, a state-run advisory panel soundly rejected the idea of supplementing rail service to Springfield with buses to Pittsfield in favor of rail the whole trip. That panel has until this week to submit comments to the state and MassDOT expects to have three possible final plans ready to make public in September.

MassDOT has already made public six options ranging from $2 billion to improve rail service along existing tracks to an eye-popping $25 billion for an electrified, high-speed rail line.

MassDOT is sticking by those cost projections, which backers say are too high, but has agreed to revisit ridership numbers.

Neal said he's discussed the infrastructure bill with Gov. Charlie Baker and state transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack. Pollack has said the state needs to create a firm plan so it can take advantage of federal money that might be available.

On Broadband, the bill aims to bring affordable high-speed broadband Internet access to all parts of the country by investing $100 billion.

"It has a particular resonance in central and western Massachusetts given the progress we've made," Neal said.

Tax incentives shifting the country away from fossil fuels and on to renewable energy lands squarely in Neal's committee which writes tax policy. He said the bill addresses, by name, the threat posed by global climate change.

"It's the largest tax investment in combating climate change that congress has ever done," he said.

The bill also addresses highways, ports, transit, schools and housing.

"We think this could be the biggest infrastructure plan since the Federal Highway Act with President Eisenhower," Neal said.

He referenced that 1956 legislation because it was done while Democrats -- Speaker Sam Rayburn and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson who would go on to be president -- ran the Congress.

Neal said he thinks this bill will get Republican support. He said he's been told by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the administration is in and President Trump has even thrown out a $1 trillion.

“I’ve told the administration, don’t let Mitch McConnell be the obstacle here,' Neal said.

Paying for the projects is easier now, Neal said. Interest rates are at nearly zero meaning the federal government could borrow the money cheaply.

©2020 The Republican, Springfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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