By Andy McKeever
05:30PM / Thursday, October 31, 2013
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Five mayors, two congressmen and too many local and state politicians to count have worked on the improvement project at the airport.
On Thursday, after 15 years, government officials on all levels joined in the ribbon cutting on the completed $22 million project.
“There are very few projects of this magnitude that go easily,” former U.S. Rep. John Olver said at Thursday’s ribbon cutting. “Federal dollars are short. State dollars are short … But, it’s done. It’s done and with luck we can use it here for great economic advantages.”
Olver helped usher in $6 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, which was combined with $13.5 million from the state Department of Transportation and $3 million from the city.
He remember his first conversation with Jeffrey Cook in 1998 when city and business officials first began pushing for the project. Then the goal was to complete it by 2004.
“It got tough. Budgets got tough. It was tough to get money together on the federal level since 2000,” Olver said, but then there was a “window of opportunity” in 2008 with the federal stimulus package. Olver served as chairman of the transportation subcommittee, which worked on appropriations of that package. The first batch of funding was earmarked toward the project and ground was broken in 2010.
“[Olver] got the project started, funded, funded again and funded again,” said former Mayor James Ruberto, adding that on top of that Olver needed to field numerous phone calls from a “worry wart” of a mayor (himself).
“It is a great win because it shows that an aggressive government, working together, can improve the lives and conditions of people all over this commonwealth and this country,” he said before delivering his well known, “it’s a great day for Pittsfield.”
The project was hotly debated and Ruberto credited residents, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and every governmental agency for finally bringing it to fruition. Ruberto spent eight years working on the project. However, he agreed with current Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who credited the process of being very public. While the debate created tension, it was a “healthy” process.
Coined as a “safety improvement project,” the benefits run deeper, according to state Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey.
“This isn’t just about just safety or pavement or runways. It is about jobs and economic development. That is what transportation is about. It is not about planes or buses — although the buses are beautiful and the planes are particularily beautiful. It is about jobs and economic development,” Davey said. “That is why the Legislature stepped up working with the administration and they are going to continue to make investments across the state. If we’re not investing in ourselves then we will fall behind.”
The improvements included extending buffer zones at either end of the runway, lengthening the runway, removing trees, installing lighting and repositioning South Mountain Road. Now, the airport has the ability to not only safely land more recreational planes but also corporate jets — an amenity local officials hope contribute toward attracting businesses.
“There are a lot of jobs and economic development directly related to investments like this,” Davey said, citing $14 billion worth of economic activity created by the state’s 39 airports. “The bottom line, this is a classic example of built it and they can come.”
Bianchi said the airport can now be a “cornerstone” to the economy instead of growing weeds.
Aside from the future economic growth it is expected to create, current U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said the infrastructure work like this is “the best way to get people to work quickly” while at the same time setting the foundation for future growth. He called for a “big” federal infrastructure program.
“We need a big transportation program for the country to get people back to work with reasonably but long-term investments,” Neal said.
Federal Aviation Administration Regional Administrator Amy Corbett added that the safety aspect of it is important, too — not just the economics. Corbett said this type of improvement helps the entire aviation network.
“It has cost a lot of money. It has taken a lot of time. But when it comes to this type of safety improvement — it is all worth it,” she said.
Also in attendance were Chris Willenborg, MassDOT Aeronautics administrator, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Paul Mark and William “Smitty” Pignatelli, Airport Commission Chairman Christopher Pedersen, Airport Manager Mark Germanowski, City Councilors Jonathan Lothrup and Barry Clairmont, Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz, Register of Deeds Patsy Harris and an array of other airport, government, construction and aviation representatives.