Blue Hill Ave. station and Mattapan trolley investment are cited in MassDOT capital planning presentation

Two major transit projects in Dorchester and Mattapan were included in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s capital investment plan presentation before the joint board meeting on March 16: the completion of the Fairmount Corridor by the construction of the Blue Hill Avenue Station and an investment in the Mattapan Trolley fleet.

The five-year plan’s list of priorities and programs will be finalized and reviewed at an April 11 MassDOT board meeting. The March 16 presentation obtained by the Reporter was for discussion purposes only.

Some components of the two local projects are guaranteed nonetheless. “As part of this plan, legal commitments will be funded from before sizing of priorities,” the presentation reads. Included among the contractual state and federal mandates is the Blue Hill Avenue station.

The long-promised Mattapan commuter rail station’s status has seemed stalled of late, with uncertainty over whether the investment was assured or conditional. New Fairmount Line stations, including the one in Mattapan, were guaranteed in a settlement resolving a 2003 lawsuit against the MBTA and other state agencies for failure to comply with the Big Dig agreement funding rail projects in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

The Blue Hill Avenue stop is the fifth and final station left for construction under that agreement. According to the investment presentation, “$26 million is included to complete Fairmount Corridor stations, including the Blue Hill Avenue station.” Officials estimated in late February that cost would be about $25.2 million.

“This means we are fulfilling a commitment that was made to the community some time ago,” state Rep. Russell Holmes told the Reporter.

“I will be even more pleased when I can get a shovel in the ground.”

Holmes, a fierce advocate for the station’s funding, says seeing the station acknowledged as a mandatory investment is a professional and personal relief.  Noting that he grew up just two streets away from the proposed site, taking the 31 bus or the Mattapan trolley as part of an extended commute, Holmes said, “I know the difference it’s going to make in people’s lives.”

Consistently, the areas most reliant on public transit face the longest commute times to work across the city. Officials estimate that it takes about 45 minutes or longer to reach downtown Boston from Mattapan – a conservative estimate that does not include wait time – depending on travel by bus or train. The Blue Hill Avenue station would slice that trip to about 20 minutes.

“This is about righting a wrong,” said state Rep. Dan Cullinane. “This is fundamentally about transit equity for the residents of Mattapan who, for far too long, have endured some of the longest commutes of any community within Boston to reach downtown. Access to opportunity is everything. If you can’t get there, or if it takes too long to get there, then that opportunity is not real.”

Cullinane authored a letter signed by nine other local elected officials last week asking for a $3 million infusion for the Mattapan high-speed trolley. They cited not only the trolley’s historic nature but also the detrimental impact on property values and access to economic opportunity for those along the line were it to be dismantled.

The trolleys, preferably the existing Presidential Conference Cars (PCCs), would be best suited to remain as the service vehicles for the line, the letter said. Radical line changes, like electric buses, would be considered years down the line; the letter showed strong opposition to such ventures.

Bus systems like those in Mexico City may be worth examining, Holmes told the Reporter. “I want to make sure we don’t just make a decision because of nostalgia, but make it because it’s also the most prudent thing for us long-term.” Holmes did not sign the trolley letter.

Cullinane said in an email that he and his colleagues look forward to reviewing the study and examining the existing infrastructure as well as assessing public transit option in other cities across the country.