Coming train station changes the game for two cities

Coming train station changes the game for two cities

A rendering of future commuter rail station alongside existing tracks at the Pawtucket/Central Falls city line.

PAWTUCKET – The new train station on the Pawtucket/Central Falls line might still be more than two years away from completion, but its status as a future certainty is already having a strong impact, with new residential developments going in and investors pouncing on properties in the neighborhood, say officials.

Local and state leaders held an official groundbreaking for the new Pawtucket-Central Falls Commuter Rail Station and Bus Hub last Friday, Nov. 2, hailing a “game-changer” project many years in the making.

Though a subsequent news release states that the station won't be up and running until 2022, city officials said everything they were told had it in operation by 2021. They were seeking clarification on that modified timeline as of press time.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa spoke of the long hours they and others have put into planning the development of the train station and surrounding Conant Thread District. They thanked state and federal lawmakers for helping to make the project a reality.

Gov. Gina Raimondo joined with local officials, Rhode Island's Congressional delegation, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and Department of Transportation representatives and others to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new intermodal transit center, which she said will allow riders to switch modes easily between commuter rail and RIPTA's statewide bus network.

When complete, the commuter rail stop will join three other stations (Providence, T.F. Green and Wickford Junction) serviced by the MBTA, with numerous stops in Massachusetts en route to South Station in Boston.

The rail-bus station will serve a built-in ridership lacking robust transit choices, with many area residents having to drive to nearby commuter rail stations in Attleboro and South Attleboro, Mass., said Raimondo. Ridership studies show this station will attract an estimated 520 daily boardings.

The commuter rail station will be located near the intersections of Pine Street and Goff Avenue in Pawtucket, and act as a catalyst for increased transit-oriented economic development given its proximity to the 150-acre Conant Thread District, said officials. It will include dedicated platforms for northbound and southbound service, connected by a pedestrian bridge overpass, elevators, ramps and stairs.

"This is a fantastic day as we further strengthen our transportation system and plant the seed for new development that will rise up around this transportation center," Raimondo said. "It's also a sign that Pawtucket and Central Falls are on the map and poised to be major players in the economic revival of the Blackstone Valley and the entire state of Rhode Island."

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed credited Grebien and Diossa for “their vision, tenacity and leadership in making this happen,” saying the new station will bring opportunities for smart growth and development in both cities.

Reed is the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, which earmarked more than $1.9 million in 2008 for Pawtucket and RIDOT to undertake preliminary engineering and environmental studies to support the project and has since led efforts at the federal level to increase federal appropriations for grants.

Other officials spoke of the opportunity for transit and economic development growth.

"The Pawtucket Central Falls Commuter Rail Station and Bus Hub will not only allow for easy transportation in and out of the Blackstone Valley, but will also attract and retain new businesses and residents, revitalize even more of our mills, and improve our streetscapes. This project will become a driving economic factor," said Grebien.

The challenge, he said, will be to embrace the new economic vitality in the area while also keeping it affordable for residents. This is about the transformation of a 150-acre area that's been underutilized.

"I couldn't be more excited to break ground on this important project for Central Falls/Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley," Diossa said. "Our residents deserve to have access to a transit center that will help connect our region to the Boston market. The development will help drive our economy, create new housing, retail, and create employment opportunities for the two cities."

Diossa noted that this station will also enhance educational opportunities for local residents who will have easier access to regional landmarks and attractions.

Construction will be led by Barletta Heavy Division, Inc., to be delivered through a design-build process expediting construction and navigating through the complexities of building a new train station along the Northeast Corridor, one of the busiest stretches of passenger rail in the country. The contractor will build the new bus hub simultaneously.

The budget for the project is $47 million, and includes funding from a combination of sources including a competitive $13.1 million grant through the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program and a $7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to RIPTA for the bus hub component. Additional Federal funds amount to $18 million, state funds $5.9 million, and the communities of Pawtucket and Central Falls are also providing funding to the project, jointly contributing $3 million.

Construction will begin immediately and continue for three years, said state officials, reaching substantial completion in late 2021. That window accommodates limited construction time periods along Amtrak's busy rail corridor, with much of the work only taking place during overnight hours when trains are not running. RIDOT expects that service would begin in the summer of 2022 after a thorough testing and commissioning period led by the MBTA to ensure smooth operations and passenger safety.

The bus hub component is scheduled to open by the end of 2020. This would relocate RIPTA's bus hub from its current location on Roosevelt Avenue in Pawtucket. The project also includes construction of a Transit Emphasis Corridor, which will create dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes along Exchange Street and Goff Avenue, linking the new transit facility to the heart of downtown Pawtucket.

Officials last Friday use their ceremonial shovels to kick off the $47 million train station project.