NEWTON RAIL STATION IMPROVEMENTS CLEARED FOR DESIGN
By Chris Lisinski
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON, AUG. 12, 2019.....The MBTA advanced plans Monday to conduct major renovations at three commuter rail stations in Newton, targeting construction of platforms and accessibility improvements as key projects.
After more than two years of discussions with community stakeholders, the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board voted Monday to approve a $5 million architectural and engineering contract with VHB to design work at the Auburndale, West Newton and Newtonville commuter rail stations.
Advocates have touted the project as a crucial step to ensure the stops along the Framingham/Worcester Line meet the needs of riders.
Newton City Councilor Emily Norton, one of several speakers with local ties who attended Monday's meeting, warned that the stations are not handicap accessible and "are pretty treacherous even for the able-bodied."
MBTA officials have been weighing work at the three stations since 2017. In February of that year, the transit authority backed down from plans to redesign Auburndale station and expand the scope to Newtonville and West Newton as well.
An analysis prepared over the next few years recommended the plan currently before officials, which is estimated at $46 million including the design costs.
The report recommended building a single-track platform on the north side of each station, but left open the possibility of adding an additional platform on the other side to help increase off-peak and reverse peak inbound service.
Constructing both platforms would bump the total project cost up to $112 million, according to a presentation MBTA officials gave at a Newton community meeting in July, and would bump the total program duration from just less than five years to about eight years.
"It gets very expensive to do two sides," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said during Monday's meeting, noting that additional platforms would effectively double the scope of the project because more elevators and steps would be needed as well.
Community members expressed significant interest in the larger version of the plan — Norton specifically requested it during Monday's meeting — so the MBTA will at least conduct a conceptual design of a second platform at one station to help provide better estimates of how much time and money would be needed to expand the project.
The T's board will need to approve a larger construction contract later in the process. If the single-platform plan remains in place, construction itself should take about two-and-a-half years, MBTA officials said.
Newton residents and officials, though, hope the project will proceed as quickly as possible.
"We are really hoping to move forward and do all three stations," said Rep. Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat. "We support going forward as soon as possible."
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