NORTH ADAMS -- Boston came to City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, when Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials made Northern Berk shire their latest stop on a statewide tour.
Their visit consisted of tours to several noteworthy sites and a monthly MassDOT Board of Directors meeting in City Council Chambers.
MassDOT has undertaken an initiative to hear local transportation priorities from each of the commonwealth's six transit highway districts.
"The purpose of these meetings is to reach out directly to our customers and have a conversation about what we have in our system, what we want out of our system and how we will afford that system in the future," MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard A. Davey said.
Davey added that the department seeks to isolate "business and cost-saving improvements" during this campaign.
Traveling by train, MassDOT officials unloaded at Western Gateway Heritage State Park at 9 a.m., showcasing for residents the recently dedicated Gold Star Memorial Coach -- a train car recognizing commonwealth service men and women lost in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The city's own U.S. Army Spc. Michael DeMarsico II, killed Aug. 16 by an enemy improvised explosive de vice in Afghanistan, is now represented on the train.
They then toured a completed project site and a proposed project site: The repaired Route 2, decommissioned in August by Tropical Storm Irene and repaired within three months; and the Hoosac Tunnel, part of a feasibility study into the viability of lifting its ceiling height to accommodate double-stacked freight trains.
The meeting at City Hall followed, which included a Berkshires-centric discussion of future transportation needs in the commonwealth.
"Improving the commonwealth's transportation has been a major priority of the Patrick-Murray administration, and we will continue to make these improvements as we continue to get closer to our goal of increasing freight and commuter rail service throughout this area," Davey said. " ... This is really, by the way, a transportation crossroads in North Adams."
He called the Hoosac Tunnel study a "significant economic opportunity for this community."
The meeting provided local officials opportunity to offer their concerns -- and thanks -- to the department.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright praised the department for a "complete and swift" response to Route 2 repairs and for "escalating" a project to revamp the Sacco Bridge.
Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi anticipated "greater north-south accessibility" in the county's future, by bus and, potentially, by a commuter rail system. Bianchi also mentioned calls for a Springfield-centered high-speed rail east, saying the development would "make us more connected with the world."
Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) representatives argued that residents see minimal return on their tax dollars, with the county lagging far behind the rest of the state in conveniently located public transportation -- limited, at that, by restrictive operating hours.
BRTA administrator Gary Shephard spotlighted a need for better bus options in the county, saying buses have seen a 9 percent increase in use while adding that 65 percent of residents don't own a car and 80 percent of these travel by bus weekly. Everyday service with longer hours, Shepherd said, should be instituted to assist the elderly, workers and job seekers in the county.
Recent runway projects at North Adams' Harriman-and-West Airport, Pittsfield Municipal Airport and Great Barrington Airport were also discussed. Janice Loux, a Williamstown resident and member of MassDOT's Board of Directors, argued the viability of commuter air travel to and from Pittsfield.
Davey said funding is and will continue to be the department's biggest challenge.
"As we continue to think about the big picture and our funding challenges, it's also important to remember small scale investments matter in our cities and towns across the commonwealth," Davey said.
On Tuesday, MassDOT and Gov. Deval Patrick reported the county would receive $670,000 in "We Can't Wait" funds, available through a $13.2 million federal earmark that was distributed in portions to each of the state's 10 transit authorities. The money will be used by BRTA for four new 14-passenger vans with fare boxes, at $420,000, and a maintenance facility roof for its building on Downing Park way, at $250,000.