LOWELL — The last time U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey were in Lowell, they came bearing a check for $21.4 million in federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for four Mill City bridges that span canals fed by the mighty Merrimack River.
On Friday, both were at UMass Lowell for an Infrastructure Investment Day event to talk about the $8 billion in federal funding the commonwealth is receiving for infrastructure investments such as roads, bridges, public transportation, climate and clean energy initiatives, among other projects.
“Infrastructure is in part about how we move around,” Warren said by phone before the afternoon meetings. “We have to think ahead. What are our transportation needs? Not from 20 years ago, but 20 years out.”
As the chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Policy, Warren led a Senate hearing on the economic impact of federal investments in Massachusetts. The afternoon consisted of three panels broken out by presentations from federal agencies, state leadership and community leaders.
The senators were joined in the first panel discussion by U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary for Infrastructure Kathleen Hogan and U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy Carlos Monje, followed by Gov. Maura Healey and closing with UMass Lowell Chancellor Julie Chen and other state and local leaders.
UML student and Student Body President Anthony Milisci attended the Senate hearing on behalf of the Student Government Association.
The public health major said his main focus was environmental health and clean energy, and that he was “interested in seeing how federal dollars have been impacting our campus specifically, but also the UMass system generally and Massachusetts as a whole.”
Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, Monje said, and finding ways to improve accessibility and safety while also decreasing the carbon footprint is a goal of the federal dollars, which Markey called a “revolution in infrastructure investment.”
“Clean energy money,” Markey said. “I know a lot is going to be going to UMass Lowell, but the same thing is going to be happening all across the commonwealth. We’re not just the Bay State, we’re the Brain State,” he said to laughter. “We’re six times smaller than California, but in actual dollars, we compete and that goes into our economy and makes a big difference.”
Making a difference was the point of Healey’s remarks during the state panel discussion. She said her administration was “chasing hard after these federal dollars” and called the funding of “critical importance to our state’s goals and our future.”
She noted that many of the grants require as much as $3 billion in state matching funds to maximize how much might be awarded. Massachusetts, she said, already has set aside $2 billion.
“As unprecedented as these investments are, there’s still a limited number of federal dollars available,” Healey said. “That means there is fierce competition all across the country to bring these dollars home. Some states put their own funds on the table to combine with federal dollars in order to be competitive to win federal grants.”
Collaboration was the theme of Chen’s remarks during the local impacts hearing testimony. She called partnerships the way to maximize the federal dollars and realize “big things,” citing the university’s geothermal project as an example of that kind of community investment.
“The geothermal project is a great example of a partnership with a company, with the neighborhood, with the city,” she said. “It’s about creating this integrated ecosystem. We can only do big things if we do them together.”
Although no specific projects were presented during the public hearing, general ambitions included clean energy projects, expanding broadband access, rehabbing senior and low-income housing to be climate resilient, clean air, safe water, public safety, research and improvements to roads and bridges.
Senior Advisor to President Biden and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu met privately with a group of mayors to discuss Massachusetts’ infrastructure needs, but spoke briefly to reporters before he flew back to Washington.
“Massachusetts,” he said, “is punching way above its weight, and it’s a pretty heavyweight place, already.”
Warren agreed with his assessment, offering that “Governor Healey and her administration have been strong partners in infrastructure and other projects that received federal funding.”
That funding includes hundreds of millions of federal dollars to replace the Sagamore and Bourne bridges on Cape Cod and nearly $170 million to replace Lowell’s 40-year-old Rourke Bridge.
“One of the things that make this such an exciting moment, is that there’s enough infrastructure money on the table that local communities can dream a little,” Warren said by phone. “They can think about the kind of changes in their local infrastructure that will improve the quality of life for the people who live there.”