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Senator Spilka and Lieutenant Governor Murray Visit Framingham

August 15, 2009
By John Hilliard/Daily News staff
MetroWest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM —

Proponents of revitalizing downtown have the support of the state’s governor and lieutenant governor in trying to turn the town’s core into a hub for transportation and business.

Taking a brief tour of downtown around noontime yesterday, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray was joined by about a dozen local officials and members of MetroWest’s legislative delegation.

“This is a chance to visualize” the area and the opportunities for development, said Senator Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.

“When you see this view – much more so than (on) the maps… you see the underutilized properties and see the opportunities to link those assets,” said Murray, as he stood atop the Pearl Street parking garage.

The town’s century-old problem – balancing the demands of rail and road traffic through the core of a tightly-packed downtown – has only worsened over the decades.

Earlier this month, the office of state Sen. Spilka, supplied figures reporting about 62 trains move through the intersection of routes 126 and 135 each day. The trains stop about 22,000 cars daily, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Murray said he and Gov. Deval Patrick are working to bring “a real transit-oriented development” to the area, and called the current bottleneck of the intersection a real impediment to development.

Solving the issue at the state level hasn’t been a certainty. Earlier this summer, the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization tried to drop the project from its regional transportation plan, but local lawmakers pushed back and kept project on the list, keeping the possibility of federal funding alive.

During his tour, Murray was guided by Public Works Director Peter Sellers. He visited the commuter rail station on Rte. 135 before going to the Pearl Street garage to get a better view of the area.

The brief tour ended at the top of the Pearl Street garage. From that vantage point, across the street from the Registry of Motor Vehicles office, officials got a look at the CSX railyard and the tree-lined banks of Farm Pond.

Coincidentally, a tour meant to underline the challenges facing area downtown was held the same day as the closing of Framingham’s Registry building, leaving downtown with one less reason for people to visit downtown.

Murray said he wants to solve downtown’s transportation challenges and improve train service, plus stimulate greater business investment in downtown and get better use of underused properties.

Selectman Laurie Lee said local officials are wrapping up a process begun in 2005 by the Downtown Rail Crossing Advisory Committee and outlines four options for the area. A consultant, Beta Group Inc., has completed a feasibility study on those alternatives, and will make its report to the advisory committee on Aug. 27.

Selectmen and the Planning Board will meet to discuss that report during a joint meeting on Sept. 15.

Assuming the feasibility study is approved by town boards, Lee said the town will seek state funding for an environmental and technical analysis of the consultant’s recommendations. Those recommendations are a starting point, she noted, and options will develop as the effort continues.

“It’s a matter of the state to release the earmark,” said Lee, who later added, “I’m very optimistic. I’m very confident” in the future of revitalizing downtown.

State Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, and Ashland’s Spilka each pointed to the opportunity that a revitalized downtown could bring.

(John Hilliard can be reached at 508-626-4449 or John.Hilliard@cnc.com.)

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