Fairmount free rides end, Blue Hill Ave station breaks ground

A rendering shows a completed Blue Hill Avenue station in use. Work on the new station begins this month, prompting some changes in service along the line.

Shuttle buses to replace trains during off-peak times starting June 3

The Blue Hill Avenue station, now under construction, has been a long time coming. Mattapan residents held out for years waiting on the stop, the last of four federally-mandated stations on the Fairmount Line connecting downtown, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park.

Work is underway on the ninth link, between Cummins Highway and Blue Hill Avenue, that would give residents a straight shot from Mattapan Square to South Station every 45 minutes to an hour.

The Fairmount Line — the only commuter rail line to operate solely within Boston – was the benefactor of an unusual ridership-boosting experiment earlier in May. US Congressman Michael Capuano offered up $53,000 in campaign funds to finance two free weeks of free rides on the under-used line, which concluded just before pre-construction began on the Blue Hill Avenue station.

“It’s a long promised station that has to be built, and that comes with some service delays,” Capuano told the Reporter on Friday. “I wish it didn’t coincide with attempts to punch up ridership, but as long they do as they proposed and keep people informed, well, you can‘t make an omelette without breaking a few shells.”

Riders will have to take alternative services on weekends and on weekday evenings beginning in early June and going for up to two years, the MBTA announced Wednesday.

Weekend trains will be replaced with shuttle buses between the Morton Street and Readville stations starting Saturday, June 3. Buses will also replace last two outbound weekday trains, Train Nos. 787 and 789 leaving South Station at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., and make every stop through Readville.

Transit officials said there will be no impact on train service during the busiest commuting periods in the morning and evening.

“When Blue Hill Avenue Station opens, Commuter Rail customers will be provided with a direct ride to downtown Boston in twenty minutes with no transfers needed,“ said MBTA Acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve in a statement.” These continued construction efforts on the Station signal the MBTA’s commitment to providing even more transportation options within the Mattapan area and continuing to improve the Fairmount Line.“

A center island platform and two covered, fully-accessible pedestrian ramps are planned for the new station. The $16.97 million construction contract was awarded to McCourt Construction in January 2017.
State Rep. Russell Holmes has been eagerly awaiting getting shovel into the ground at Blue Hill Avenue. A ceremonial groundbreaking will likely take place in early June, he said.

“It’s good to have finally the southern part of Mattapan and that business district connected to the Fairmount Corridor,” he said. New ridership makes the case for a more “robust” train system, he said, “having more trains moving up and down that actually stop in the community.”

Blue Hill Avenue is the last of four Fairmount stations funded as part of a Big Dig-related mandate. After a 2003 lawsuit about the state’s failure to comply with local-based agreements related to the massive infrastructure project, the MBTA was ordered to fund a number rail projects.

Stations at Newmarket, Four Corners, and Talbot Ave have been completed. Transit estimates found that ridership tripled on the line since 2012. This is still significantly lower usage than other commuter rail routes.

No ridership numbers from the promotional period have been released yet, so advocates remain unsure about its precise impact. Capuano said the transportation department’s recent re-evaluation of Fairmount ridership, which found that a higher-than-expected 2,260 people used the train on an average weekday, was “already a major victory.”

“I’m sure they would not have not have done that if we hadn’t pushed for this promotion,” Capuano said.

Advocates initially asked that the promotion happen later in the year, said Mela Bush-Miles of the Fairmount/Indigo Transit Coalition.

“The fact that the free rides happened right before the start of construction on the station, may not encourage more people to use it, even through the diversions in service would be in the evening and at night,” she said.

The free ridership promotion will ultimately be a boon to the line, Holmes expects, though the timing was not ideal. People have been coming up to him and saying they forgot they actually had to pay a fare, having used the train without charge for two weeks, he said.

Bush-Miles asserts bolstering public transit is critical from an environmental perspective. She points to a steadily warming climate and ongoing vehicular air pollution.

But the access this station and better service along the Fairmount would offer to residents — now dependent on buses or the high-speed trolley to connect them with the rest of the T system — could be a new lifeline, she said.

“We have access to all kinds of wonderful things along the line,” she said.

A new movie theater will be part of the South Bay expansion near the Newmarket station, and growing commercial hubs around Readville and Newmarket are highlighted in citywide planning efforts. Elected officials and community groups have long said the area around the Fairmount could use new developments and amenities.

Such advances “could impact the health, the lives, and the prospects of the community,” Bush-Miles said. She remains wary of gentrification in the Fairmount Corridor, which services some of the highest percentages of low-income Boston residents and communities of color.

“I just don’t want unintended consequences,” she said. “There are people who live here right now and we want to stay put. I’m one of them.”

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