Momentum building for Pawtucket train station

Momentum building for Pawtucket train station

PAWTUCKET - Development of a future commuter rail station in the city's Barton Street neighborhood, once little more than a dream, is now a good possibility within the next few years, said state officials last week.

City officials in Pawtucket and neighboring Central Falls say the train station would be a "game changer," functioning as an economic driver and providing convenient transportation to commuters and tourists along the Northeast Corridor.

Not only would the many existing redeveloped mill sites in the area benefit from such a station, said Pawtucket Planning and Redevelopment Director Barney Heath, but its construction would stimulate new development in an area that could really use it.

An environmental review and preliminary engineering have now been conducted by officials from the Department of Transportation, who have narrowed the possibilities for a future train station to a pair of Pawtucket sites:

* One is the P & W Railroad yard on the Goff Avenue side of the existing railroad tracks between the site of the former Union Wadding Mill and the Mineral Spring Cemetery.

* And the other, just over the tracks, is between Barton Street, Dexter Street, Weeden Street and the existing tracks, encompassing some commercial buildings diagonally across from the Lynch Arena.

Representatives from the DOT held an informational meeting with city residents last week to talk about a potential project and answer questions and concerns from residents. Nearly 50 residents turned out to express support for the proposed train station and voice their opinions on issues like making sure there is the right amount of parking and easy pedestrian access from both sides of the tracks, among others.

A future train station is a "significant opportunity not just for Pawtucket," said Aaron Hertzberg, executive director of the Pawtucket Foundation, but for the state of Rhode Island, with significant economic development initiatives in Pawtucket and Central Falls expected to come with it.

A train station is "by no means automatic," said Stephen Devine, chief of Intermodal Planning for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, but there are currently no other train station proposals in the state to compete for a share of limited federal transit funds. But there will be other transportation projects in the state, and across the country, vying for a piece of the pie, he noted.

Not only will the project have to leap funding hurdles, said Devine, but it needs to meet all of the requirements for keeping existing trains in operation. The Pawtucket project is ideal, he said, because the station would be built along existing tracks almost exactly between South Attleboro and Providence and service thousands of people within easy walking distance.

Construction of the project likely wouldn't get started until at least 2017, if at all, according to Devine.

Each of the proposed sites for a commuter rail station presents its own challenges, say officials, with the Barton Street site considered to be the much more expensive of the two given the property acquisitions that would need to take place.

Typically train stations are developed some 12 to 15 years after an initial study, according to Devine. Since Pawtucket's study happened all the way back in 2007, the city could now be "smack in the middle" in getting a station built, according to Natasha Vekucjivuc, a consultant from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.

In 2010, the Pawtucket commuter rail project received $1.9 million in a federal transit grant to complete the environmental review and preliminary engineering. The next steps of the process will involve:

* Final selection of a site.

* Analysis of projections for ridership.

* Planning for train service and impacts to Amtrak, P & W and MBTA train service.

* Developing a preliminary station design for parking, platforms and access, among other items.

* Preparing an environmental assessment for noise and vibration and air quality, among other issues.

* Developing a market analysis.

* And staging the project for the Federal Transit Administration/developing a funding plan.

For updates on the "Pawtucket Commuter Rail Station," with complete documents and graphics, visit www.vhb.com/pawtucketcommuterrail .