BOSTON – Burlington area businesses have a reason to celebrate the new year, as the Middlesex 3 Coalition, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) and Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford) have secured funding necessary to establish a shuttle service that will allow local restaurants to fill hundreds of job openings with otherwise unemployed workers from Lowell.
The program, which has been a major priority for the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce, was awarded $290,000 over three years by the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (“MPO”). Previously this fiscal year, the Middlesex 3 Coalition was awarded $125,000 by the Commonwealth to fund a regional transportation coordinator, bringing the total state support to $415,000 over a three-year period.
“We have been advocating for this program for several years now, and we are ecstatic that it is coming together,” said BACC President Rick Parker. “It began at a meeting when dozens of our restaurants came to me and Rep. Gordon, and told us that if we could access the Lowell labor market, they could find applications for a significant number of job openings that are going unfilled. Rep. Gordon and I never gave up on this concept, and it’s great to see it come through.”
The program will be funded largely by public investments in the first year, and then will transition to private support over three years. By the fourth year of the program, the transportation service will be funded entirely by the area businesses. It will begin as a link between Lowell and Burlington, but as it grows, plans are for it to extend to communities such as Bedford and Billerica, as well as provide access to seniors and others members of the community.
“This is the epitome of a team effort,” said Rep. Gordon. “We began by laying out a plan. Rick Parker never stopped working. Stephanie Cronin, Executive Director of the Middlesex 3 Coalition, was instrumental in the details. Rep. David Nangle (D-Lowell) offered his help and guidance. And when Sen. Friedman took office, she stepped right in and continued the hard work that Sen. Ken Donnelly began.”
“In 2014, the legislature appropriated the money for our plan, and then we turned to the Administration. There are many worthy causes competing for economic development support, but Jay Ash, the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, came to Burlington several times where he listened to our challenges. We brought in the Department of Transportation, and from there the Governor’s office approved our plan.”
The program will operate through the Middlesex 3 Transportation Management Association (TMA). Those who work on weekends or late at night will be picked up in Lowell and taken express to Burlington so that they can get to their employer on time. Riders will have transportation back home again, even in those instances where a sick child or other emergency may require them to return home mid-shift.
“Burlington has such a vibrant local economy and a wide variety of successful businesses” said Sen. Friedman. “This program will be another opportunity for those businesses to access the workforce they need to succeed, ultimately strengthening our local and regional economies. Moreover, it will alleviate the traffic that congests our roads by transporting hundreds of workers into town, without requiring each of them to drive their own cars.”
Katherine Holahan, Vice-President at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, demonstrated her group’s support of the program in a letter to the Boston MPO. “We believe this is an opportunity for government and business to work together to connect workers and employers across the Commonwealth to facilitate stronger economic development.”
Regional transportation has been a focus of the Middlesex 3 Coalition from its inception, and its TMA was the choice of the business community to operate the system. “We worked hard with state and municipal government to identify the best ways to connect the Lowell workers with these opportunities,” said Middlesex 3 Executive Director Stephanie Cronin. “It was not easy, but the businesses stepped up, the Town of Burlington contributed, and when the state gave us final approval, we carried the program to the finish. We will all benefit from this opportunity.”