Clad in a mustard-yellow baseball cap and a long tan winter coat, Governor Deval Patrick stuffed his hands in his pockets, trying to keep warm, as he looked out from his post atop the vandalized Pearl Street parking garage at the bustling center of downtown Framingham.
Patrick paid a visit to Framingham, which bills itself as the largest town in Massachusetts, Tuesday afternoon to listen to over a dozen state legislators, local elected officials, higher education presidents and transportation leaders speak of the town's vision to improve central infrastructure and boost the local economy.
Patrick also visited the Framingham commuter rail stop to talk about the town's efforts to minimize traffic impacts when the train runs through town, and toured a vacant site on Blandin Street that the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority is eyeing for an expanded intermodal bus station and offices.
"In many ways, Framingham is a crossroads at a crossroads," Patrick said, noting that the town is headed in the right direction with the local bus authority, the commuter rail stop, and the planned addition of a permanent Massachusetts Bay Community College campus downtown.
He said that the $34.8 billion budget he presented last month, which calls for a hike in the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, would help stimulate funds to plan a roadway change that would alleviate traffic caused by the at-grade commuter rail, which clogs vehicles coming in all four directions right in the center of town.
"Like it or not, this is going to require a conversation about resources," Patrick said. "We have presented a growth budget, which is precisely for this kind of growth."
Bob Halpin, Framingham's town manager, pointed out the CSX freight yard near the center of town to Patrick, describing a vision of residential development on the now-unused rail yard.
CSX sold 45 miles of tracks and rail yards to the state last fall, and Halpin said the state could now help Framingham officials sell the deserted yard to a private developer to build houses.
Halpin also pored over aerial maps of downtown Framingham with the governor, showing him specifically how the commuter train, which also just added more weekday trips for a total of seven by later this year, stops traffic downtown.
Halpin said the state conducted an engineering study that recommends, among other options, digging out a tunnel underneath the rail tracks to allow traffic traveling along Route 135, also known as Waverley Street, to continue without interruption from train crossings.
However, Patrick one-upped town officials: he recommended placing the train itself underneath the road, a solution that would be costlier but would also allow the state to build a high-speed rail.
"Depressing Route 135 would be more viable for the short-term, but what [Patrick] is suggesting is a much more long-term solution," Halpin said, noting that the state is considering options and will likely decide what to do by late 2013. "Now it's up to them. If they have a vision of a high-speed rail, there will be different things to look at."
Patrick also spoke with local public transportation officials about expanding operations around Framingham. Ed Carr, administrator of the Metro West regional Transportation Authority, which provides local bus service, said having Patrick's tour end at the facility they are hoping to occupy was beneficial.
Carr said rides on the bus service have increased from 140,000 rides in 2007 to over a half-million rides presently.
"Public transportation has undoubtedly grown," he said. "We need to expand, and this facility is in our grasp."
Carr said the MWRTA is planning to move to the new site in the next three or four years, but also noted that with state funding, the transportation authority could move in by early next year.
He said the new location sits a mere five minute walk to the commuter rail, and connects to pedestrian sidewalks and to main roadways and thoroughfares, making the facility truly intermodal.
"We are thrilled that governor came to visit and spent so much time here," Carr said. "We're excited to show him the possibility of us using this facility."
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org