Transportation officials faced angry neighborhood residents last week in a pair of contentious meetings about the Fairmount commuter rail line, including one session that ended with a state lawmaker abruptly leaving the room.
“I’m losing faith in the Department of Transportation,” state Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) told the Reporter after the meeting.
Some Mattapan residents have been pressing for the re-location of a commuter rail station proposed for a site near Woodhaven St. They argue the station, which would be located between Blue Hill Avenue and Cummins Highway, would affect the property values of their homes as well as other “quality of life” issues.
The meeting prompted the general manager of the MBTA to send out a letter this week to residents of Woodhaven and Regis Streets asking to meet with them again. General manager Richard Davey said he would be willing to hold the meeting in one of their homes.
“I want to be clear that it was not the intent of the MBTA to have residents feel they have been ignored and concerns not addressed,” Davey wrote in the Wednesday letter. “I would like to discuss ways that we may work together now and in the future to address your concerns.”
The Blue Hill Avenue station, which would be part of the Fairmount line, is one of four new stops being added to the line that runs between Readville and South Station. By court mandate, all the new stations, located in Dorchester and Mattapan, must be functional by December 2011.
At a separate meeting, neighborhood residents pressed transportation officials to ensure that the contractor working on the Four Corners commuter rail station, located at Washington Street and Geneva Avenue, is hiring women and minorities from within the community.
Hart said Gov. Deval Patrick’s transportation chief, Jeff Mullan, had promised that no final decision would be made on the siting of the Blue Hill Avenue stop until Mullan had a chance to personally speak with neighborhood residents. Mullan was unable to attend last week’s meeting, held Tuesday night at the Mattapan Public Library, because he was focused on a fierce rainstorm’s effects on the state’s roads and bridges, aides and lawmakers said.
But during last week’s meeting, other transportation officials said that a letter had recently been sent out to a neighborhood group focused on the Fairmount line which could be interpreted as saying that a final decision had been made. The admission prompted Hart to walk out. “I said there’s no need for me to be sitting there,” Hart told the Reporter. “Because I no longer have faith in this process.”
Davey, who attended the meeting, said there had been a “little bit of a miscommunication.” “We have not made a final decision,” he said. “We’re trying to balance everybody’s interests.”
He added that there were also individuals in attendance at the meeting who support the proposed site for the station.
As for the letter that led to Hart’s walkout, Davey said, “One could read it to say a decision has been made,” despite that not being the case.
Davey added that the MBTA is able to conduct a pre-construction inspection, if permitted, of the homes abutting the site of the proposed station. “The inspection will allow us to impose upon the construction contractor the financial responsibility for any issues that may occur because of the proposed station construction,” he said in his letter to abutters.
The Department of Transportation and MBTA are overseeing the construction of the Fairmount line and the 800-foot platform at the Blue Hill Avenue station, which could spur economic development in Mattapan Square. A DOT spokesman told the Reporter in February that the MBTA had analyzed the possibility of other stops and found that other alternatives were not feasible.
“It’s a beautiful residential area that will be impacted,” Hart said of the Woodhaven St. area. “We need to find some alternative.” He added: “I understand the larger picture of having a number of stops on the Fairmount Line in order to access the train. But the fact remains that the T still hasn’t resolved it to the satisfaction of the neighborhood residents.”
Fireworks were not limited to the Blue Hill Avenue station. At the meeting at the Codman Square Tech Center on the Four Corners station, neighborhood residents, in urging the contractor to hire more women and minorities, berated company head Stephen Early, who was in the room.
“People of color are in the majority in this community,” said City Councillor Charles Yancey as Early and other workers from S&R Construction Company looked on. “We cannot let the contractor off the hook. The process in place right now is not good enough.”
Early pledged to hire more women and minorities, taking business cards from local business owners in the crowd and shaking Yancey’s hand at the end of the meeting. “We want to do the right thing,” he said. “We want to hire people from the neighborhood.”
He noted that he has already hired several people of color, and added that the construction work, expected to take two and a half years, will not need many jobs. “It’s not like there’s a hundred or fifty jobs [available],” he said.
The MBTA’s Office of Diversity and Civil Rights is charged with monitoring whether workers on a project are 30 percent minority and 7 percent female. Wanda Hubbard, ODCR’s government compliance officer, said if the company doesn’t meet those goals, the MBTA can stop payment for the project, terminate the contract, or bar them from working on another MBTA contract. She said S&R has agreed to use local businesses for materials and supplies, such as Dorchester Tire.
Construction on the Four Corners station begins this month. The project plan calls for an 800-foot long platform that will include a steel canopy, benches, a train approach warning system, and lighting.
“I think we made progress,” said Pamela Bush, a lead organizer with the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, which has been pressing for the station to get built. “I believe the T understands that Four Corners is a force to be reckoned with, that it’s time for a change and it has to happen right now.”