Despite T Assurances, Residents Push Against Pleasant St. Station ‘Alternative’

Photo: Erik Stoothoff, chief engineer for the MBTA.

Despite assurances by the MBTA a new commuter rail station on Pleasant Street is currently just one of many options being considered, the overwhelming number of residents who attended a public meeting on the future of the Waverley Station weren’t buying it.

“I don’t understand why Belmont must pay the price for the MBTA’s negligence or bad faith, but here we are,” stated Sterling Crockett of Trapelo Road to cheers of more than 100 people in attendance.  

But for the T, the issue at hand is nothing but removing obstacles that prevent all residents from taking the commuter line.  

“We are here in earnest the process of evaluating what the solution is for making the trains accessible here in Belmont,” said Erik Stoothoff, chief engineer for the MBTA.

The meeting held on Monday night, Nov. 16, at the Beech Street Center, was an opportunity for the MBTA to provide a preliminary findings as it is completing its feasibility assessment and evaluation of what would meet the requirements to update the facility so it is accessible to disabled individuals under the Americans with Disability Act.

The MBTA is currently under a legal order from the state’s Architectural Access Board to bring the station up to code after it made about $400,000 in repairs to the platform in 2012, triggering a review. 

In fact, it was little different than the initial presentation to Selectmen last month.

“Quite candidly, we have done very little work since our last meeting in anticipation of continuing the dialogue with the townspeople,” said Stoothoff.

John Doherty, who was recently named the Waverley project manager (“The face of the project” said Stoothoff) said the T through the work on the Fitchburg line, is looking to increase ridership, and improve the infrastructure and “multimodal linkage.” 

So far, the options available to the authority’s include:

  • Making the needed improvements at Waverley to make it accessible.
  • Close the station permanently.
  • Build a new Belmont station.
  • Combine Belmont’s two stations into a new one on Pleasant Street.

Doherty said due to the number of riders and the limited space, renovating the site would be “a pricey change” since the MBTA is attempting to standardize platform heights – to a “high-level” at four feet above the track running the length of the station. Currently, riders must descend stairs and jump onto the platform at both Waverley and Belmont stations. 

Also, previous ramp configuration would be “extremely difficult” to construct on the site as it would take up a great deal of space.

“It’s something we’re not looking to do in that form,” said Doherty.

Rather, newly reconstructed stairs and four elevators (two inbounds, two outbound) would be the alternative to bring Waverley up to ADA code.

Reiterating a point made at the last time the MBTA met with the Selectmen, Doherty said repair work at the aging and inaccessible Belmont Station, located at the Lions Club at the entrance to Belmont Center, while not imminent “that station will need to be upgraded … so when we do work at Waverley, we will consider what will need to be done at Belmont and fold them in together.” 

With the T reluctant to move Belmont station eastward as it would impact a long stretch of homes along Channing Road, “so rather than shifting east, shift west … and that one-mile stretch between Waverley and Belmont Center it becomes a natural progression [to look in that area],” said Stoothoff.

The one new feature is “a conceptional idea” of where a new station would be placed and its appearance. Located where the school bus depot is located on property owned by the Tocci brothers, the new station would also take a portion of land from Belmont’s Department of Public Work’s yard. 

The new station would be about a quarter mile up the tracks from Waverley towards Belmont station with a platform long enough to accommodate a nine-car train or about 800-feet, have parking and a pedestrian bridge so travelers can cross the tracks safely.

The total cost would be in the range of $30 million, roughly the same of renovating the Waverley stop to allow it to be accessible.

After 20 minutes. Residents and some from Watertown and Waltham citizens took the MBTA to task for attempting to move the stop to a not in my backyard constituency as well as several people who hoped to use their expertise in related fields to help convince the agency the best approach remains to keep the station opened. 

Judith Sarno spoke for many in the 3rd precinct where she is a Town Meeting member saying she was “adamantly opposed” to a new station as it would bring large numbers of vehicles into the neighborhoods.

For Anne Mahon, the station is a transportation hub for residents living in affordable housing in Belmont, Watertown and Waltham, providing them transportation to Boston’s job market. Moving it outside the square, even by just a quarter mile, could impact their employment opportunities.

After viewing the first selectmen’s meeting, Unity Avenue’s Erin Lubien said she left feeling “there have to be other options” to preserve the station that is an essential part of Waverley Square.

Rather than just write a letter or attending public meetings to express her concerns, Lubien contacted Annis Sengupta, an acquaintance and neighbor who just happens to be a Ph.D. in Urban Planning, to create a series of charts indicating the economic and transportation necessity the station has become and submitted other options, such as a municipal parking garage to accommodate commuters.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to work with you and try to solve this problem,” said Sengupta.