State infrastructure grants for roads, parking lots, and sewer and water lines will help Ashland, Ayer, and Natick spur economic development, according to local officials.
Last month, the state announced 26 grants through its MassWorks Infrastructure Program totaling $38 million. The figure includes $1.5 million for roadway improvements on a stretch of Kansas Street and its intersection with Route 27 in Natick; $365,000 for sewer and water work in Ashland; and $267,000 for a commuter-rail parking lot expansion in Ayer.
Paul Joseph, chairman of Natick’s Board of Selectmen, said the reconstruction of Kansas Street from its Route 27 intersection to the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center will help ensure that the research lab and its approximately 1,800 employees stay in town, and will facilitate growth at the facility.
Joseph said the project will also ease traffic congestion for motorists taking Route 27. “The bottlenecks that happen on 27 are pretty major,” he said, and noted that cars can back up for a half-mile in either direction during peak commuting hours.
Martha White, Natick’s town administrator, said an additional $1 million of state capital planning funds will go to putting the power lines on Kansas Street underground.
“We consider that to be an important public safety component of the project,” White said. “As we’ve discovered in recent storms, it doesn’t take too much to knock out overhead wires.”
White said the project is part of an ongoing effort to enhance local relations with the Natick Soldier Systems Center, which develops food and clothing used by the military.
Local officials slapped together a grant application in 48 hours after finding out about the grant at the last minute, White said. “Lo and behold, we got the grant.”
White said she hoped construction on the project could begin in the spring.
Ashland’s grant will facilitate sewer work that will allow future developments to tie into the municipal system, said David Manugian, interim director of the town’s Department of Public Works. He said the grant will also pay for improvements that will increase water pressure downtown.
“We’re pretty excited,” Manugian said, adding that the sewer improvements could not only spur commercial development on West Union Street, but also ease the path for a proposed 500-unit residential complex near the town’s commuter rail station.
While the grant would pay for initial sewer improvements, Manugian said, the town would use sewer fees from new development to make additional upgrades later on.
Manugian called the water improvements a “nice bonus,’’ and said the added pressure will give residents better service and also aid the town’s fire safety efforts.
Ayer’s grant will be pooled with local and regional transit matching funds to utilize a $3.2 million federal earmark for the expansion of a parking lot in the town’s central business district, near its commuter rail station.
David Maher, Ayer’s director of community and economic development, said the current lot holds only around 80 cars, forcing commuters to park on town roads instead.
“It’s kind of catch as catch can,” Maher said. “They spread out all over town.”
Two blighted buildings and an existing car dealership need to be purchased in order for the lot to expand to around 190 spots, Maher said. He said the redeveloped lot would generate more traffic for local businesses.
“The whole downtown is marked for two-hour parking, so it really pushes the commuters out to fringe areas that aren’t in the retail district,” Maher said.
With commuters parking in the expanded downtown lot, Maher said, “there’ll be more people to use the goods and services that we have here in Ayer.”