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Struggle over location for Mattapan's Fairmount Line station continues

Posted by Cara Bayles  June 17, 2011 11:16 AM

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On the whole, the Mattapan neighborhood wants the commuter rail station promised to it by the state years ago. Yet the proposed location of the station, on Blue Hill Avenue and Cummings Highway, has divided the community, with abutting residents worrying about the effect of construction and service on their homes.

For more than a year, transportation officials have worked to placate both sides while meeting with them separately.

"We were having meetings separately, and I got a lot of complaints," said state Representative Russell Holmes, whose district includes a large chunk of Mattapan. "Abutters asked 'Where are the people who are for it?' And people who were for it were saying, 'Where are the people who are opposed?'"

Both sides were in attendance at a public meeting in the Mattapan Library Thursday night.

The Blue Hill Avenue Station is the last of four new Fairmount Line additions promised to the community when state officials sought to prevent a 1990 lawsuit from the Conservation Law Foundation, which threatened to block Big Dig construction due to ecological concerns.

To win environmental approval by boosting public transportation, the MBTA committed to extending the Green Line into Somerville, adding new subway cars to its fleet, and building four new stations along the Fairmount commuter rail line, a nine-mile long corridor that runs exclusively within city of Boston limits from South Station to Readville.

A recent groundbreaking ceremony on the Talbot Avenue Station in Codman Square marked that construction has begun on all three of the other stations.

At last night's meeting, supporters lamented the fact that Mattapan was lagging behind.

"The project itself is very powerful. The benefits are for us, it's for the future. It's not for standing still, it's for moving forward," said Michele Scott, the director of community organizing for the Mattapan Community Development Corporation, who said she was speaking as a Mattapan resident.

"We're not moving forward. I don't want to say that, but it's true," she said. "Everywhere else, you're seeing beautification."

But for residents who might suddenly find themselves next to an 800-foot-long station, the station would mean the opposite of beautification. During a community meeting in spring 2009, longtime activist and Mattapan resident Paul Parks told officials that the drilling and blasting required to construct the station would have a disastrous effect on the foundations of nearby homes. Parks, who was trained as an engineer, said that there is ledge of rock a few feet below the ground in that area.

Barbara Fields, a Woodhaven Street resident, said when she gardens in her yard, she hits rock before she gets a foot deep.

"I cannot fathom how you will be able to dig this platform and not hit ledge," she said. "We're concerned about the damage to our homes. We live there and invested in it."

Other residents said the construction on the chosen site would jeopardize the identity of the neighborhood, particularly Woodhaven, a street that some residents say has been a long-admired symbol of the black middle class.

"I think it's unfair to say that everyone wants it, but it's only a small group that opposes it," said Fields. "The T is making decisions for this community."

The MBTA has considered three other sites for the Blue Hill Avenue Station. Though residents on River Street advocated for a station near them, their site was deemed unfeasible because it would require the tracks to take a sharp curve that would make it impossible to build a handicap-accessible platform. A location on the other side of River Street was ruled out because homes would be even closer to a station there than they would be to the Cummings Highway/Blue Hill Avenue one. A location west of Cummings Highway presented the same problem, plus existing MBTA track would require designing a crossing, and right-of-way issues would require taking residential property. Another site, by Jubilee Church, has less ledge underground, but would require the state take over property from the Mattapan Car Wash & Quick Lube, and part of the church's parking lot, as well as a few residences that would be too close to the proposed station.

"With any alternative station, we want to minimize, if not eliminate, the need to take private property," said project manager Mark Czyrklis during a presentation on the failed alternatives. "We went back to looking at the alternatives between Blue Hill Avenue and Cummings Highway. And we said, 'Is there a way to build the station where we think it belongs, but address community concerns?'"

The solution was to propose a single-island platform running between the inbound and outbound lines, rather than separate platforms for each direction. This would further distance the effect of construction on the neighborhoods to either side of the station, and officials estimated that would shave $2.5 million off the cost of the project.

Rep. Holmes suggested that money could go toward further mitigation for neighbors. A sound barrier wall could be put up for $500,000, and the state could put new sound-proof windows into neighboring homes, and do an assessment of them before construction begins.

"But we can't mediate until we have someone to mediate with," he said.

Fields said that the MBTA's track record with the neighborhood was filled with "empty promises," and cited the delay in bringing about comprehensive improvements to Mattapan Square Station as an example.

"We're as much opposed to it today as we were before," said Fields. "We're going to fight you if we have to lay down in front of those trucks."

E-mail Cara Bayles at

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