Gov. Deval Patrick came to Mattapan on Thursday morning to roll out a flurry of planned improvements to the Fairmount commuter rail line, including plans for a new station on Blue Hill Avenue and — more immediately— regular service on the weekends starting next month.
“Everywhere the train has gone has been good for the local economy and that’s why we feel so strongly about this kind of investment,” Patrick said.
Work is expected to begin on the roughly $25.2 million station late next year, with construction lasting 18 to 24 months, according to state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey. The station is expected to be similar to the Yawkey Way and Four Corners stations.
“These commuter rail stations are not complicated to build but they’ll be doing this around an active track so that will take some time,” explained Davey.
With the new stop, Davey said it will take only 20 minutes to travel from Mattapan to downtown Boston. State Rep. Russell Holmes, who represents Mattapan and has pushed for the station since being elected, estimates that the new stop will shave an hour off rides to and from downtown–ultimately freeing up 10 days of a person’s life per year that would have been spent commuting.
The governor also announced Thursday that the MBTA will spend an estimated $250 million to buy 30 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) that will be used on the Fairmount Line in the coming years. The self-propelled rail cars can run on commuter rail tracks as single cars or connected to two or three cars. While not common in the United States, DMUs are popular in Europe and Asia, and offer an alternative to the heavy locomotives on the commuter rail now, allowing for rapid transit service similar to the subways on the Red and Orange lines.
The state will put out a request for proposal for the 30 DMUs at the end of the year, with expected delivery in 2018 and complete delivery in 2020.
“The introduction of DMUs on the Fairmount Line will reduce travel times and offer more options for travelling in and out of downtown Boston,” said MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott.
Fares on the Boston stops on the Fairmount Line will also be reduced to the same cost as any subway trip in the rest of the city: $2.10 per trip, the governor said. The Fairmount Line trains will begin weekend service November 29, expanding beyond the current weekday service–just in time for the holiday shopping season, Davey said.
Community members and local electeds praised the news.
Tina Petigny, executive director of Mattapan Square Main Streets, said the new station will be a huge benefit for the neighborhood and motivate businesses to invest in ways they had not before.
“Right now, folks don’t come to Mattapan. I’ve talked to a lot of corporations who say there’s no draw here just yet but this station will create that,” she said. “Businesses are waiting for that opportunity for folks to get off at the stop, hang out in the area, and get a cup of coffee. It’s huge for Mattapan and it’s huge for the residents.”
Today’s news, she added, was the result of “baby steps with leaps of faith.”
Holmes, who grew up on Rockdale Street in Mattapan, said he knows all too well the headache of trying to travel downtown from Mattapan, which usually involved deciding between taking the 31 bus to Forest Hills or the high speed trolley line to Ashmont.
But not everyone was on board with the new station and the announcement.
Barbara Fields, an abutter to the proposed station, said she and other neighbors oppose the station for numerous reasons. Fields was upset that Thursday’s announcement went against the vocal opposition in the community.
“The opposition has fallen on deaf ears because the powers-that-be have decided that this is what is best for this community,” Fields told the Reporter.
Fields said the station’s construction will harm the foundations of the brick homes abutting the planned stop, and the increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic from the station will clog nearby residential areas.
She also questioned the need for the Blue Hill Avenue station, saying the Mattapan T station on the Ashmont high-speed line a half mile away from the proposed station and the Morton Street Station on the Fairmount Line, just under a mile away, were close enough.
“I already have access. If this is about access, this doesn’t make sense.”
“It may be faster to get downtown with this stop, but at what cost?” she said. “For 5, 10 minutess faster, should we forego our quality of life?”
City Councillor Charles Yancey, whose city council district includes Mattapan, disagreed.
“This is an arduous process that goes back 20 years,” he told the Reporter. “This will help make Mattapan a destination and ease the transportation concerns for the people who live in this area. The vast majority of beneficiaries are the people that are going to live in Mattapan.”
Yancey also took the opportunity to bring up another Mattapan issue: his proposed high school, a cause he has championed for more than a decade. At Thursday’s press conference for the Blue Hill Avenue station, Yancey invited Patrick to a groundbreaking ceremony for the high school before the end of his term. Yancey told the Reporter he planned to bring the $120 million loan order to a vote in next week’s city council hearing.
Patrick told the Reporter afterward that the high school was not his decision, but admired Yancey’s dedication.
“There’s a guy who’s got an issue that just won’t rest,” said the governor.
Patrick and others at the announcement, including State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry— wife of Reporter editor and publisher Bill Forry— encouraged community members to continue fighting for their neighborhood and hold the next governor’s feet to the fire to ensure the station comes to fruition.
“I don’t know,” Patrick said when asked by a reporter if he thought Republican Charlie Baker would not support finishing the Blue Hill Avenue station if elected governor. Patrick has publicly backed Democratic candidate and Attorney General Martha Coakley. “He says friendly things and then he talks about rolling back gas tax which is the way we pay for these things,” Patrick said. “I’m doubtful.”