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State IDs potential stations

Sites to be studied for rail/bus service

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / July 13, 2008

The proposed expansion of public transportation service to New Bedford and Fall River could result in new commuter rail stations in Raynham, Easton, Norton, Middleborough, and Freetown.

State transportation authorities unveiled a list of 25 rail and bus station possibilities on Wednesday, during a Commuter Rail Task Force meeting of Southeastern Massachusetts officials and planners.

Those station sites are along the three corridors being studied for rail expansion and one highway corridor being studied for rapid bus service expansion. The final station sites will depend on which of the route options is eventually chosen.

In September, state officials will announce a refined list of station sites, and those will undergo environmental study for the next year. By spring, transportation officials will identify the path the rail (or bus service) expansion will take, as well as the final location of the stations along that route.

According to Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, the group of station locations announced Wednesday represents a mix of possibilities. Some would offer expansive parking to accommodate commuters from outlying communities, and others, in more densely populated locations, would serve abutting areas and allow for more transit-oriented development - also known as "smart growth" because it takes advantage of existing public transportation resources.

"It would be mixed-use type development to be used for urban revitalization, particularly in the older cities," Smith said. Kristina Egan, who manages the state's South Coast Rail project, said stations would not be built near municipal water supplies or other environmentally sensitive areas. Existing topography would be factors in the decision-making, along with the condition and type of road network that is already in place, she said.

Proposed station locations along the so-called Stoughton alternative include Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park in Raynham and two possible locations in Easton.

Raynham's greyhound park offers expansive parking as well as enough acreage for considerable mixed-use development nearby, Smith said.

Both of Easton's locations appear to present some problems. Using the former rail station in the downtown would cause public safety response problems, according to Easton officials. It also sits in a Zone 2 protection area for the town's water supply, local officials say.

The other location, the Roche Brothers Plaza in North Easton, is the future site of an office building that has already secured its permits.

South Worcester Street provides a likely station location in Norton, as part of the so-called Attleboro alternative for rail service expansion, Smith said.

Norton selectmen have taken a formal vote to oppose the Attleboro alternative. Heather Graff, founder and president of a residents group called Citizens Concerned About Tracks, told rail officials Wednesday, "The town of Norton is not embracing that location for a variety of reasons."

Gregg Guimond, a transportation specialist with the regional planning district, said his agency had discussed four possible station sites with Norton officials. He said they selected the Worcester Street location as the least offensive, "if they had to have a station."

A station in Freetown would serve all the various expanded rail routes heading to the South Coast. Smith said 10 locations were scrutinized in Freetown, and the U Storage site on South Main Street was declared the best rail station location. That property has enough parking, and it would allow for some residential and commercial development.

Middleborough had three locations on the state's short list of possible station sites: one currently serves as an MBTA layover for trains not in service. Another is the former train station site in the downtown. And the third was a site on Everett Street, north of Route 44. That one is closest to the property targeted for a Wampanoag-run casino, Smith said.

Lakeville's current station did not make the list of station locations for the rail expansion. Egan said state officials will keep in mind that the town has already done some permitting for developments based on public transit access there.

"It will be a major consideration," Egan said. "We understand the town has a lot of investment there."

Egan said it is too soon to "lock" sites so they don't get used for other development, like the Roche Brothers site in Easton that has been permitted for the office building.

"We can't just buy all the sites now," Egan said. "But as we get more certain about station sites, we will begin negotiating."

The public has less than two weeks to weigh in on the proposed station locations, which are posted on the state's website at southcoastrail.com. The deadline for submitting public comment is July 31.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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