By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts, Globe Correspondent | March 14, 2010
Responding to an outcry from residents and town officials against the design of the new South Acton commuter rail station, state officials have agreed to scrap one unpopular part of the proposal.
Instead of a single platform with a 600-foot-long concrete ramp on just one side of the tracks, the new station will have two platforms, an elevator, and access on both sides, said state Senator Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat.
“This is a great victory for the town of Acton, the disabled community, and commuters,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge, state Representative Jennifer Benson, and Selectmen Peter Berry met with Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials Monday and made the announcement to residents Thursday at a meeting of the South Acton Train Station Advisory Committee.
There’s been widespread opposition to the T station’s design since it was unveiled last spring. Residents and town officials say it doesn’t fit the historic character of South Acton. They also said the ramps were too long and steep and that it did not allow for platform access from the south side of the station.
The town submitted an alternative design but it was rejected. T officials said the proposal was too expensive and would delay construction.
But the town continued urging the state to reconsider, and in January the T agreed to tour the site and meet with residents. About 150 people showed up for the site tour and then residents submitted a petition with 600 signatures.
“I think when they realized we weren’t giving up and expected more cooperative planning, they were quick to turn around the plan,” said Benson, a Lunenburg Democrat.
Benson said what helped the town’s case was that it presented a viable alternative instead of simply rejecting the state’s design.
Eldridge said he thinks the site visit was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” He said the large number of people who turned out for the site tour showed state officials that it wasn’t just a small group of neighbors opposing the plan.
“We weren’t sure what to expect and are overjoyed at the acceptance of the changes,” Eldridge said. “This is not just good for the neighborhood but people from Maynard and Stow who park to the south, for someone who is disabled, and people who appreciate the historic character of South Acton.”
Frank DePaola, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for design and construction, said the process worked they way it is supposed to – the T offered its design, received community input, and then responded to comments.
“The community process worked here in Acton,” he said. “We were urged by the governor’s office and representatives to revisit the design alternative.”
The new design will cost more, about $13 million compared to $10 million, but because bids have been coming in lower elsewhere in the project, thanks to the sluggish economy, the extra $3 million can be absorbed by the overall budget, said DePaola.
Berry, a member of the South Acton Train Station Advisory Committee, said the new design is a far better fit for the community. The station is adjacent to the South Acton Historic District, which includes Colonial-era buildings and the recently renovated Exchange Hall, a former general store.
“I want to credit the T with listening and responding to our concerns,” Berry said.
The town’s alternative proposal calls for an elevator and two platforms linked by a walkway. Supporters say the design would provide easier access for riders with physical disabilities, and for moving between the inbound and outbound sides of the tracks, as well as be more aesthetically pleasing.
The MBTA’s plan called for an elevated center-island platform, reached via ramps and a walkway from the north parking lot crossing one set of the tracks. The ramps and walkway would have a roof and side enclosures to block the elements.
The final design was supposed to be done by the summer, with construction completed by December 2012. But officials said the change delays that timetable.
Berry said there are also some other issues that need to be addressed. He said the T raised concerns about the maintenance of the elevator and asked the town to be responsible for the cost. Berry said the town will consider the request.
“We still have a lot of details to work out, but I think the result will be much better than the original proposal,” Berry said.
The new station is part of a$200 million renovation to the Fitchburg commuter rail line, the oldest and slowest in the state. The two-year project is intended to improve speed, service, and reliability by adding double tracks along some sections, updating existing track, and improving communication and signaling systems along the 50-mile corridor. The plan also calls for renovating the Littleton commuter rail station.
Lisa Kocian of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.