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Senator Spilka Keeps Framingham Rail Project On The List

August 2, 2009
Downtown Framingham railroad crossing funding nearly derailed
The MetroWest Daily News
Dan McDonald

FRAMINGHAM —The search for a solution to the traffic woes around the downtown at-grade rail crossing, a problem that has plagued the area for more than a century, nearly suffered a blow last week that could have set back the effort a few more years.

“We are at a crucial turning point for Framingham’s downtown revitalization, and knocking this project off the state’s priority list would have been devastating for the town, the MetroWest region, and the commonwealth,” said state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, through a statement. “We can’t afford both in terms of actual dollars and in terms of momentum, to abandon this project now.”

The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization dropped the project from its regional transportation plan before political pressure prompted the organization to put the project back on the list.

The MPO is responsible for conducting a federally required transportation planning process. It represents 101 cities and towns.

Getting dropped from the plan would have meant a serious setback for any developments regarding the railroad crossing at the intersection of routes 126 and 135.

If it was not featured on the plan, that would essentially eliminate the project from any federal funding consideration.

The rail crossing causes traffic nightmares throughout the day and is one of the biggest hurdles facing downtown revitalization.

There is seemingly no easy solution to the problem, according to town officials.

The town should unveil a big-picture conceptual plan next month, but is nowhere near the engineering design phase.

“We’re hoping we’re approaching the end of the beginning,” said Selectman Laurie Lee before the public session of her board’s meeting started this week.

About 62 trains move through the Rte. 126/Rte. 135 intersection each day. The trains congest traffic, stopping about 22,000 cars daily and bringing downtown thoroughfares to a standstill for about two hours, according to Spilka’s office.

The traffic jams can back up to the Concord Street rotary.

Spilka’s office says the crossing represents the eighth worst in the MPO region.

And the problem could get worse.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray has said that increasing the number of commuter trains between Boston and Worcester is a priority.

A solution is still in all likelihood, years away.

“We’re talking about something that’s only a concept,” said selectmen Chairwoman Ginger Esty.

“We’re on the edge of what the solution would be,” she said.

Federal earmarks, if the MPO had dropped the project, could have been null and void, said Esty recently.

The matter almost flew under the radar.

Esty, who is the town’s MPO representative, makes a point to attend each meeting.

However, she missed a meeting earlier this summer because of surgery and the rail grade crossing was pushed off the list.

Ultimately, with Spilka and Esty pressuring the MPO to put the project on the list, the project landed back on the plan last week. That keeps it in the pipeline for state and federal funds.

Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or at dmcdonal@cnc.com

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