Ashmont Station Rehaul Design Still Taking Shape

Details of the looming reconstruction of Ashmont MBTA station are being worked out between members of the community, the MBTA, and development firm Trinity Financial, with an eye toward beginning construction in late 2003.

The renovation of Ashmont is one part of a neighborhood-wide, $88.5 million overhaul of four Dorchester Red Line stations, with construction scheduled to begin next year. Generally regarded as among the most broken-down facilities in the MBTA system, the stations were awarded funding from the Massachusetts Legislature after years of lobbying by local activists. Architectural designs are being carefully scrutinized by a team of local residents set up to review plans for each station.

Although the project's funds have already been allocated by the state Legislature, this week's additional $60 million in state budget cuts are a matter of concern for the project's designers, who also must take into account the heavy traffic coursing through Ashmont Station. With an estimated 17,000 people using Ashmont per day, it ranks as one of the busiest stations in the MBTA system.

Divided into two phases, the project is now entering the second phase, which will involve not just the facelift to the station itself, but the redevelopment of a now-vacant parcel of land adjacent to the station on Dorchester Avenue.

In a December 4 meeting, Trinity Financial gave T representatives Barbara Boylan and Lydia Rivera its ideas regarding the development parcel, whichn Trinity won rights to develop earlier this year. According to Trinity Financial Vice President Vince Droser, the proposals consisted of "street-level retail ideas and some new housing options," both of which would spruce up the now vacant space.

Trinity also suggested shortening the viaduct and trolley track, which currently wends away from the Avenue, toward Radford Lane, and back into the station, facing Peabody Square. One Ashmont resident called the last leg of the viaduct "a huge waste of space." By further separating the modes of transportation - trolley, train, and bus - Droser predicted a more efficient station.

Additionally, Trinity proposed an entrance facing Peabody Square and a smaller roof over the station, which would cut down on costs and, in theory, improve the station aesthetically.

Chris Stanley, co-chair of the community advisory committee (CAC) participating in talks with Trinity and the T, said the committee was "excited" about Trinity's plans.

"It came out as well as any of us had hoped with Trinity Financial," said Stanley. "This is a developer that's been committing to working with us."

But Stanley and others have been less pleased with the cooperation of the MBTA, which they charge has been slow in addressing some of the community concerns.

"The committee was feeling a little underappreciated, if you will," said Droser.

After Droser explained Trinity's design idea at last week's meeting, Stanley said, "They wanted to take it back and not comment on it until February. We though that was really taking things too far."

"I think the T is reluctant to open the process up to brainstorming because they're afraid it's going to cost more money, and everything we've seen says it's not going to cost more money," Stanley said. "We just want to look at it."

"We were pleased with the proposal for the parcel of land," countered MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera. "We have been working closely with Trinity and we have a good relationship with Trinity."

"I believe it was kind of sprung on them," said Ashmont CAC member Della Costello. "(MBTA project manager) Barbara Boylan did say that she was going to bring it back to the T and they were going to take a look at it."

But Droser said that the lack of immediate response recalls the tedious process the neighborhood has already undergone in sparking the project's initial stages.

"It's a fear that it's going to drag out," Droser told the Reporter. "It's a fear that the T is not going to respond to the concerns. There's a sense of déjà vu."

"There's a sense that the T is addressing the station but doesn't want to look at the overall plan," he added. "We've proposed some things to the T and we need some reaction to those concerns to keep things moving."

According to Stanley, the chief concerns put on the table by the community include a clearer entrance to Peabody Square; better coordination of the different modes of transportation; a small roof above the platform; a

better-lit station; and the development parcel, which would ameliorate what he calls "the current, desolate, asphalt wasteland."

"What Trinity puts there is more or less going to have to flow with the flavor of what the T puts there and that's what we're working to achieve," Rivera said, pointing out, "Unbeknownst to many and contrary to what many believe, that is one of our more-smoothly operating stations," but adding that the flow of traffic is a focal point of the new design.

Rivera said that the Trinity plan for shortening the viaduct, which Stanley called "the best idea we've seen in two years," wasn't feasible due to financial and operation concerns.

"We have to better reconfigure the buses," she said. "The operation of the buses is crucial so we're looking to come up with an innovative idea of how we can improve the traffic flow."

Charlie Rasmussen, a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas Finneran whose office has been charged with oversight of the community process, said the Speaker had no comment yet on the matter.

"This is a once-in-a-century opportunity for this station," Stanley said.

"To miss the opportunity to look at this viaduct thing because we didn't have an extra two weeks or an extra month would be a real shame, a tragedy."

"We're going to continue to muddle through and figure out how to address all the different needs the community is looking for," Rivera said.

All four stations- including Ashmont, Shawmut, Fields Corner and Savin Hill- will undergo construction simultaneously under the current MBTA plan, with replacement bus service planned along Dorchester Avenue.

The design stage began early last year and some local residents have expressed dissatisfaction with the pace at which the process has been conducted. Throughout the process, the T plans to continue consulting with the CACs that have been set up for each station.

The Ashmont Station CAC will hold a public meeting on January 15 at 6:30 p.m. at All Saints Church on Ashmont Street.