Proposed Rail Station Aims to Reconnect City To Waterfront

By Brian Boyd
TAUNTON — A proposed commuter rail station off Route 18 would become the new home of the Greater New Bedford Career Center, as well as a catalyst for private development in the neighborhood, according to state and city officials.
Kristina Egan, the manager of South Coast Rail, offered details Monday of the proposed Whale’s Tooth Station during a meeting of the Southeastern Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization.
State officials have applied for $71.4 million in federal stimulus money for the station proposal, which is a piece of the larger, $1.4 billion plan to extend commuter rail to New Bedford and Fall River.
“We have a vision of making this really beautiful and reconnecting the city with the waterfront,” Egan told members of the planning organization.
The proposal calls for an intermodal transit station at Whale’s Tooth, which would tie the proposed rail service with existing shuttles, buses, and ferries. The building would be completed in 2012.
The plans include a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting the station with the neighborhoods on the other side of Route 18, near Clasky Common Park, as well as the reconstruction of four deteriorated railroad bridges.
Egan said she expects to hear whether the state won the competitive grant in January. If the state is successful in securing the federal money, the work could begin in September, earlier than officials otherwise believe they would begin work on the rail project.
“We will jump-start South Coast Rail about two years before we expected,” she said.
The construction of the station, though, would not necessarily move up the time line for the overall rail project, which is supposed to be finished by 2016, she added after her presentation.
The total cost of the station proposal is projected to be $97.7 million, with the balance of funding coming from the state.
The station’s depot building would have three stories, with 30,000 to 40,000 square feet of space. Ticketing, waiting areas and retail would occupy the ground floor.
The career center and other community services, such as health care and day care, would fill the upper floors. The career center’s current space does not meet all of its needs, according to the grant application.
When the building is finished, the career center’s operations would be moved from its current building, located to the west of the proposed site of the station. The existing building could be demolished and replaced by a park, pending public input on the idea, Egan said.
The station would spur private development in the surrounding area, she said.
“It’s really like building a new neighborhood,” she said.
State officials project the station building and the related work, known as Fast Track New Bedford, will create 186 construction jobs, plus 500 permanent jobs in the area. It also will translate into an additional $2.3 million in tax revenue for the city, according to the grant application.
Transit hubs often ignite development in surrounding areas, said Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, in an interview.
“Transportation-oriented development has proven to be enormously successful when you look across the country,” Morrissey said, citing the economic success of Lakeville as an example.
The station would inspire private development of residential and retail buildings nearby and would serve as a boon to the Hicks-Logan-Sawyer area, just to the north of the proposed station, he said.
September 29, 2009
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