Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito came to town last week to welcome the Town of Watertown as the latest community to sign a Commonwealth Compact with the Baker-Polito Administration.
Watertown is the 261st community to sign a Commonwealth Compact and the compact focuses on Complete Streets, which seeks to make streets accessible not only to motor vehicles but mass transit, bicycles and pedestrians.
By signing the compact, Watertown promises to use “best-practices” when implementing complete streets, and in return they have have a leg up on getting access to state assistance, including grants for design and construction of street projects.
“It is the second year of funding, and this year we have $2 million in the Commonwealth Compact Best Practices Fund,” Polito said.
The town can hire a consultant to figure out the best practices, and if the town cannot find one the state will hire a third party to work with the town.
“Once the town achieves best practices, it will be eligible to apply for Complete Street construction funds,” Polito added. “They will be able to get grants of up to $400,000.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris said he referred to complete streets in his inaugural address in January 2016 because it was a priority.
“This is one of the initiatives I thought was important,” Sideris said. “Trying to make streets more comfortable for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation.”
Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said the town was ready to apply for the Community Compact program thanks to the creation of long-term planning documents such as the Watertown Comprehensive Plan. This document identified Pleasant Street and Arsenal Street as areas prime for redevelopment.
“They have been growing by leaps and bounds,” Magoon said. “Some residents of the area are concerned about trying to maintain the character of the town.”
Polito credited Watertown officials for being prepared to have the areas redeveloped.
“You were well positioned. It doesn’t just happen,” Polito said. “It takes talent, leadership and planning. The way you prepared – zoning and planning – is not something that just happens. You were ready for when the opportunity came along.”
The Commonwealth Compact program is an initiative that came from Gov. Charlie Baker and Polito, both of whom have experience as elected officials at the local level – Baker as a Selectman in Swampscott and Polito as a selectman in Shrewsbury.
“It was something we wanted to make work. It can’t be top down. It has to be a grass roots initiative,” Polito said. “We know unfunded mandates don’t work and we wanted a program to be funded and it was funded. And we wanted it to reach all types of communities.”
The state has a range of areas where communities can sign Commonwealth Compacts, Polito said, including IT (information technology), financial/budgeting, financial forecasting and planning, comprehensive housing plans, open space and recreation, regionalization and efficiency, and more. Find out more about the program here.