The city of Boston’s entry into the longtime push to realize the full potential of the MBTA’s Fairmount Line is welcome news. Utilizing the planning expertise and coordination of the Boston Redevelopment Authority— and pairing that with the good work already done by community development corporations and grassroots citizen groups — offers an opportunity to make the rail corridor a real engine of economic growth in neighborhoods that have too often been neglected because of their isolation from decent transit options.
The BRA plans to examine both macro and micro levels. In conjunction with the mayor, they will assemble a large advisory group to craft a vision  for the length of the Fairmount corridor. But they’ll also ask smaller, “crossroad” groups to drill down to specific neighborhoods around each station, starting with the existing one in Uphams Corner.
There is no better example of a neighborhood poised to be uplifted by improved commuter-line access than Uphams Corner. The Fairmount station there sits across the street from what is now one of Dorchester’s greatest institutional assets: the Salvation Army Kroc Center, billed as the largest community center in New England.
But, Uphams Corner station also sits in the hulking shadow of one of the neighborhood’s most glaring and longstanding eyesores, an old, six-story warehouse that’s a monument to what hasn’t happened along this easterly stretch of Dudley Street. For all of the improvements and investments between Dudley Square and Uphams Corner— and there have been many, thanks to groups like DSNI and CDCs like Dorchester Bay EDC— the owner of this warehouse has defied all attempts by city and state officials to have it salvaged and re-integrated into the dynamic neighborhood surrrounding it.
Finding a new use for this building should be at the top of the to-do list for the folks who assemble to work on the BRA initative in Uphams Corner. The group will also, no doubt, cast its attention on the old Maxwell warehouse on East Cottage Street, now in city hands after many years of tax delinquency.
In Mattapan Square, where a new station will be built in the next two years, a similar building sits in decay on Cummins Highway. The old Cote Ford dealership should likewise be a focus of community planning through this BRA initiative.
On the larger scale, the Fairmount Line advisory group may also want to tackle, early-on, the nagging issue of whether the long-term future of this rail corridor should be more ambitious than the $139 million build-out that the T is now undertaking. The “Indigo” line reference — which activists attached to the line three decades ago— refers to a still-cultivated idea that the Fairmount should in fact one day become a rapid-transit line, like the T’s Red and Orange lines.
Given the current fiscal crisis facing the MBTA, it’s unlikely that such a conversion will be considered in the near term. But, ideally, this is precisely what should happen in the coming decades: a conversion of tracks, equipment, and stations to a light-rail system that is more akin to the familiar stops in Dorchester along the Red Line.
There are some 160,000 people living with a half-mile radius of the Fairmount Line — that’s more than one-fifth of all Bostonians. They’ve waited a long time for the state to respond to their reasonable demands for better service. The BRA-led initiative is a good vehicle for exploring the possible benefits of this investment in a way that will best serve the residents who’ve made these communities their home despite the transit hardships.
– Bill Forry