STATE REP RACE Q&A: Dave Robertson Discusses District’s Infrastructure Needs & Affordable Housing Needs

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking weekly questions to the seven candidates running in contested primaries for the Wilmington/Tewksbury State Representative seat (19th Middlesex).

Below, in his own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury).

#17) What are some of the major infrastructure needs in the district? Can you point to specific streets/areas within both towns that “need work?” What will you do as State Rep to ensure certain roadway projects, sidewalk projects, etc. finally get addressed?

Every candidate, without a doubt, is bringing up Route 38 for good reason. Under-peforming intersections constrict business development, increase commutes, and make it dangerous for pedestrians to be out. Sidewalks exist, then don’t exist, before popping into place again, and turn lanes are backed up for hundreds of feet. It’s anarchy, and only getting worse.

Some of the notable hotspots, for both towns that need to be addressed immediately.

  • Route 38 and 129 in Wilmington, especially that left turn lane.
  • Route 38 and 62, down to 129 in Wilmington. Hours of life are lost on that straightaway.
  • Route 38 and Pleasant St in Tewksbury.
  • Route 38 and Shawsheen in Tewksbury.

The next State Representative needs to fight for financing for these projects, as all are intersections with terrible capacity to handle our current demands. The trick here is that the funding is divided into two parts. Sure, it is one thing to get the money allocated in a bond bill, but then the bonds themselves need to be released. The release of the bonds is an entirely separate duty, and requires one to press the Treasurer’s office and other agencies to ensure the funding is actually allocated to the project. See, when a construction project is approved it goes through a series of steps including design, bids, and placed onto a development plan that oversees the region. While a project may be given status on this list, and bond money allocated to the project, if the cash isn’t ever allocated the project is as good as dead. A good State Representative needs to attack our traffic issues in two ways; first by getting the project funding, and then keeping the pressure on the various agencies to proceed with the process to develop it and ensuring the allocated money is actually given. It is not uncommon for a project to be supported in a bond issuance bill, along with hundreds of others, just to be left out of the allocation process.

In addition, streets are becoming multi-use. Future redesigns should be more pedestrian and bike friendly, as people want to go out and about with their families and may not always want to use their cars. Sidewalks are a bit more prevalent in Wilmington, but Tewksbury lacks major pedestrian access. With the future Tewksbury Rail Trail developing nicely, sidewalks will be a tremendous addition alongside the route, allowing folks to bike to and from the store if they want, or just to escape the neighborhood to another part of town. I have spoken to many people on this issue, who feel trapped in their homes or worried about their kids because they cannot walk the neighborhood. Imagine the ability for a senior to walk to the Tewksbury Bike Path right to the Senior Center, as the trail will pass closely by, to join their friends.

Another concern of mine, and one I am familiar with in the state house, is the continued support of the Small Bridges Program that Governor Baker and his administration have rallied behind. I am sure the older Tewksbury and Wilmington residents shudder when remembering the Brown St Bridge issue that plagued both towns and Billerica. It’s better to get ahead of the curve, and address our collapsing infrastructure.

Lastly, and this is a major concern I touched on before; something needs to be done about the North Wilmington train station. It is a small lot that can use a bit of attention. Several folks have mentioned the state of disrepair the parking lot sits in, and it is a major pain in the you-know-what when a MBTA train sits in the crossing, blocking the road by Eli’s. While this is a specific example, it is also a potentially deadly one as Wilmington Fire and Police have been held up there before. I would love to see the state take a hard look at what can be done to improve commuters experiences while also mitigating the impact to the neighborhood.

#18) As State Rep, what will you do to increase affordable housing opportunities for seniors, veterans and young adults right out of school? Also, what are your thoughts on the Governor’s proposal to promote more dense housing developments by changing the 2/3 majority vote to a simple majority vote for rezonings at Town Meetings? (Background: Finally, do you feel the state’s 40B laws need to be updated? Why?

The Boston housing market… a headache for all, regardless of age, income, and family composition. This is a hugely regional issue and while it is a symptom of good things like strong educational systems, job prospects, and a high quality of life I believe the market has become too hot. I, as State Representative, will look to approach this by two avenues. First, we need to address the required affordable housing disasters that are approaching Tewksbury and Wilmington. This will require negotiation with developers to find locations that are least impacting in the two towns, because like it or not the developers do have the leverage. In Tewksbury I would hope to find a location near the state hospital, where land is more plentiful on certain boundaries and neighborhoods wouldn’t be uprooted. Wilmington is much harder to plan for, as it has been nearly developed outright. One interesting concept, which I researched and presented to Representative Miceli who in turn showed it to a number of concerned Wilmington residents is the revival of a State-loan program that granted money to towns to purchase single family, duplex, and condo units. The towns could list this on the affordable housing stock sheet, and a family could purchase the home and pay the town as they would a mortgage. The only caveat for the family is that they would have an affordable housing restriction placed on the deed, meaning they could only sell to another low-income family, senior, or like party. This program was a great idea in my opinion because it did not create any concentrated areas of poverty, maintained the look and feel of neighborhoods in ways that mass developments cannot, and allowed families who bought such houses to be truly part of the town.

While I support 40b’s end-goal, I do strongly believe that it needs rehab, and that rehab needed to occur years ago. Other states such as California, for example, requires developers of 40b-style projects to adhere to town master plans, address resident concerns, and more. While this is a burden on the developer, it makes for a stronger community while building affordable housing at a rate similar to Massachusetts. 40B’s result is ill-placed and ill-conceived high-density units surrounded by single-family homes, forests, and more. It makes for ugly towns, isolated neighborhoods, and a host of other concerns. While better than the slums of yesteryear, I believe that these places are only slightly better and do not do anything to strengthen a town or the lives of the people who live in such projects. What I would propose as State Representative to change 40b would include requiring such projects to adhere to a municipalities master plan, removing incentives to build out of place high density projects by allowing a town to limit the number of units per parcel at a lower percentage, and providing incentives to ensure such communities are connected with the rest of the town by public transit, sidewalks, and more. I could write an entire page on this topic alone, but those three core issues of 40b are just the ground I would start breaking and I believe are of the highest priority in addressing.

(NOTE: Do you have a question for the candidates? Email and it may be asked in a future Q&A or in a debate.)

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