Board Select South Route For Community Path … For Now

Photo: Pare’s Amy Archer (l) listening to Selectmen Chair Adam Dash. 

By a slim 2-1 margin, the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted to support placing a portion of a proposed community path from a new underpass at Alexander Avenue to Brighton Street along the south side of the commuter rail tracks, avoiding the residential neighborhood along Channing Road.

While it is the board’s preference, a south route is far from a slam dunk. Previous discussions with Purecoat North indicated the company was willing to sell the entire building – currently the home of the dog daycare facility Crate Escape – for upwards of $6 million for the entire structure, an amount Selectman Mark Paolillo called “unacceptable.”

The meeting was called to answer a simple question, said Chair Adam Dash: “If you know then what you know now, would you still support a south route for the path.” The quire was directed at Amy Archer, the consultant for the Pare Corporation which wrote the feasibility study of the entire community path which was presented in 2017.

Dash also said the selectmen have an increasingly tight time constraint on selecting a path as Town Meeting will have a $1 million Community Preservation Committee grant for design work to vote on and the town was preparing to seek state money for other work.

The board accepted Pare’s recommendation in which the path would run on the north side of the commuter rail line from Belmont Center to a proposed underpass at Alexander Avenue then proceeding along the south side to Brighton Street.

But the town and the board reopened the process in the fall of 2018 when word came from the MBTA and the MassDOT – who will determine which rail to trail projects around the state should receive funding – voiced considerable concern for the south route as it led commuters, pedestrians, and others to cross the rail tracks at an angle, which is a

At Monday’s meeting, Archer reiterated much of the initial findings which pointed out that as both the south and north options approached the Brighton intersection, they would encounter “pinch points” that will reduce the width the path to less than optimum ratios for safety and traveling.

Along the north side, there are 600 feet of path abutting property owned by FE French Construction, that would make it difficult for emergency vehicles to “literally open their doors” said Archer, if they were needed.

The southerly route would also meet a barrier of the Purecoat building of roughly 80 feet. But there was a solution, according to Archer; the acquisition by the town of a portion of the building, which would be removed or designed in a way to allow the necessary width for travel and first responders.

Archer said the study determined that “some negotiation” with the building owner on what they determined would be a “minor impact” to the structure. There was one catch to the building; it has been determined that soil is contaminated, which brings into play the state’s Superfund law, known as Chapter 21E, which describes the legal obligations of property owners and other potentially responsible parties when contamination is found which has its own potentially high price tag.

While running the path along Hittinger Street to Brighton to bypass the congestion point has been suggested and was in the feasibility study, the selectmen essentially rejected that proposal as well as taking the building through eminent domain laws.

Archer also noted that safety at Brighton Street intersection could be resolved with additional gates along the sidewalks. She noted that due to the future increased levels of the pedestrian, bike, and vehicular traffic on Brighton Avenue will require the intersection to be redesigned for increased safety and effective traveling whether the path is built or not.

After the presentation, Dash asked if Archer’s decision from 2017 to recommend the southern route was still valid.

“The Pare team stands by that decision,” Archer told the board.

The board debated the “new” information, pondering whether to delay a decision or simply bite the bullet and make a final determination. In the end, the majority – Tom Caputo and Paolillo – settled on the compromise to select a southern route but only if and when “successful” negotiations with Purecoat.

“I can’t go against our expert consultants that were supported by the Community Path Advisory Committee,” said Paolillo. 

Belmont Joins Opposition To MBTA Wi-Fi Poles

Photo: MBTA commuter rail station at Waverley Square.

Belmont is joining a growing number communities in opposition to the installation of 320 75-foot tall mono-poles by the MBTA along commuter rail tracks including one slated for Thayer Road in Waverley Square.

Dubbing it a “silly idea,” Selectmen Chair Jim Williams joined his colleagues in voicing concerns to the regional transportation authority’s plan to construct the towers to improve Wi-Fi service to passengers riding the rails.

The pole in Belmont will be located adjacent to 33-39 Thayer Road on the Waltham side of the tracks, said Jefferey Wheeler of the Office of Community Development who attended a recent community meeting by the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board to discuss the $150 million project.

While the tracks are 20 feet below the street’s grade, the pole will still be as tall as a five-story tall building when installed.

The MBTA said the project – which is an underground fiber-optic cable which utilizes the pole to project the wireless network to the trains – will eliminate “dead spots” along the four commuter rail lines it services. 

Wheeler said the MBTA told the meeting it only needs the first 35 feet of the pole to send its signal while the remaining 40 feet is expected to the rented to mobile phone carriers to supply their service to trains and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The MBTA entered into an agreement in 2014 with a private company which will share revenue from sponsorships, infrastructure leasing, and a premium wireless service.

Selectman Adam Dash was critical of the lack of transparency from the MBTA stating the authority only sent the notification to the town of its intentions through the Belmont Historic District Commission and not the Selectmen or Town Administrator.

While the town can express its opposition to the project, the MBTA is exempt from local zoning bylaws restricting height and appearance as the structures are being constructed on the authority’s right of way along the tracks. Wheeler pointed out that cell phone carriers which will have the right to use the upper half off of the pole – up to three carriers will able to use that space – are likely to have extending “arms” and wires.

The selectmen are advising residents who are opposed to the project to contact the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, Gov. Charlie Baker, Mass. Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, State Rep. Dave Roger, and State Sen. Will Brownsberger to share your concerns with this proposal.

Joseph Aiello, Chairman

Fiscal Management Control Board

State Transportation Building

10 Park Plaza

Boston, MA 02116

Governor Charlie Baker

Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Room 280
Boston, MA 02133

To email Governor Baker’s Office use the link below:

Stephanie Pollack

Secretary and CEO Department of Transportation

Ten Park Plaza Suite 4160

Boston, Ma 02116

Telephone: 857-368-4636


State Rep. David M. Rogers

Massachusetts State House

24 Beacon St

Boston, MA 02133


State Sen. William N. Brownsberger

Massachusetts State House

24 Beacon St

Boston, MA 02133

Breaking: Waverley Station To Remain Open for 10 More Years

Photo: The Waverley Station.

It’s not used by many riders, it’s difficult to get around and it’s in need of a great deal of maintenance. And that’s what the MBTA says about Waverley Station, which runs the commuter rail station in the heart of Belmont’s Waverley Square.

But it now appears that all of Waverley Station’s shortcomings are the major factors which will allow the Fitchburg Line stop to remain open for the next decade, according to Belmont State Sen. Will Brownsberger.

In an e-mail announcement dated Tuesday, June 14, the state’s Architectural Access Board – which in 2014 deemed the station a liability for people with limited access to use the facility – has given the MBTA a 10-year time variance before needed repairs or a new station is required to improve accessibility for riders. 

The announcement came after nearly a year in which the MBTA actively sought to close down the nearly century-old station and create a new stop along South Pleasant Street. That plan was deemed unacceptable by many residents surrounding Waverley Square and the MBTA dropped that plan earlier in the year.

In its decision, the AAB in a letter to the MBTA noted that since the Waverley Station has some of the lowest ridership numbers in the system – only 117 daily passengers arrive or depart from the stop – the board is placing higher priority on improvements at 69 stations and bus stops with much higher use. It also cited a cost of $15 million to $30 million to bring the station up to AAB standards

“[D]ue to the low ridership and high cost to create access, Waverley Station is not considered a ‘priority station’,” read the letter from the AAB to the MBTA explaining the 10 year variance. 

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.

Belmont Could See One, Both MBTA Commuter Stations Closed In Favor of New Stop

Photo: Waverley Square station in Belmont.

Since before the Civil War, Belmont has been home to a pair of stations along the rail lines running through town – one at Belmont Center and the other in Waverley Square – serving commuters and commerce from nearly the beginning of the town’s incorporation.

But that arrangement is under threat as a two-year-old state mandate ordering the MBTA to make one of the stations accessible to the handicap will likely lead the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to close one or both stations and construct a new facility with parking, likely along Pleasant Street.

Belmont has “to contemplate the possibility that we may eventually need to close at least one of our commuter rail stations,” said State Sen. Will Brownsberger in an email to constituents.

The public process on determining the closing and construction of stations will begin soon as the MBTA is preparing to come before the Belmont Board of Selectmen in the near future, according to Brownsberger.

But so far, the Selectmen had yet to receive word from the MBTA on the future of Belmont’s stations. 

“All I know is what I read in Will’s note,” said Board Chair Sami Baghdady, after attending the School Committee meeting earlier in the month.

While the MBTA would finance renovations to the existing structure or the creation of a new station, Baghdady said he is prepared to work with the Authority on reaching a final plan that incorporates the community’s concerns and viewpoint.

“We need an open and public process in which many questions will be answered,” said Baghdady.

The MBTA is within its rights to build a station along the rail lines on property it owns without the city or town’s OK, “but I believe they will understand they’ll need to be responsive to the community during the planning phase,” Brownsberger told the Belmontonian on Wednesday, Sept. 16. 

No specific location has been advanced for a new station, yet in the past, officials have pointed to the location of the depot for North America Central School Bus at 1000 Pleasant St., within a few hundred feet from Star Market.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 2.42.11 PM

Brownsberger said MBTA management inform him the state’s Architectural Access Board has ordered the transportation authority to improve access to the Waverley Square commuter rail station to allow handicap citizens to take public transportation.

Brownsberger wrote the AAB determined more than two years ago “that recent improvements to Waverley station trigger an obligation to make the station accessible. Under state disability access law, structures can remain inaccessible indefinitely, but if an owner improves a public facility substantially then they need to make it accessible.”

And time is running out for the MBTA to get the job done, originally being told by the state to fix the problem by Jan. 1, 2015.

While the order only applies to the station at Church and Trapelo, the question of inaccessibility will soon be an issue at the Belmont Center station. While there has not been significant improvements at the stop on the commuter rail bridge adjacent to Concord Avenue has not had any improvements that would trigger an overhaul, the MBTA said the station’s platform is falling part and will need to be repaired.

Because of its state is disrepair, “the MBTA expects to need to make investments that would require an accessibility upgrade,” said Brownsberger, noting the cost to upgrade Belmont Center station would be expensive since the stop is on a curve, creating dangerous gaps between the platform and the doors, making accessibility a challenge.

With the estimated cost of bringing the Waverley Station – which lies several dozen feet below the street grade – up to code is estimated at $35 million, and likely just as expensive at Belmont Center, the MBTA is floating an idea that the town had once examined in the 1990s.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 2.51.01 PM

Rather than spend millions on restoring both stations, it would be advantageous for the MBTA to build a modern station at a point along Pleasant Street between Belmont Center and Waverley Square where the tracks are both straight and close to the surrounding grade. A new station could also include parking and could also be combined with development along Pleasant Street, said Brownsberger.

A Pleasant Street Station is not a new idea, said Brownsberger.

“Twenty years ago, I chaired the South Pleasant Street Land Use Committee. We considered the possibility of a new single station to replace the two existing Belmont stations,” said Brownsberger, a plan the committee ultimately recommended against at that time.

A single station, argued the committee, would mean longer walks for many commuters. People were also concerned that a parking lot on Pleasant Street would be used primarily by out-of-town commuters, bringing more traffic to town.

Also, a pedestrian overpass would be needed to allow residents and commuters to access the station from across the tracks within easy walking distance of many Belmont neighborhoods, some kind of pedestrian overpass would be needed, said Brownsberger.

An overpass would bring more foot traffic and probably drop-off vehicles to the areas off Waverley Street between the town field and the town yard — neighborhoods who already feel pressured by traffic from the town yard, the committee concluded. 

While there are challenges facing a new station, Brownsberger said that Belmont has “to contemplate the possibility that we may eventually need to close at least one of our commuter rail stations.”

Brownsberger said the MBTA is scheduling a meeting with the Selectmen to “discuss the challenges and options in greater detail and to design an appropriate public process for decision-making.”

“State Rep. [Dave] Rogers and I are committed to assuring the MBTA moves in a deliberate and transparent way on this issue, and we look forward to working with the Board of Selectmen and with all concerned,” said Brownsberger.

“We need to go through a transparent and public process to examine all the potential options,” he said.

Light at the End of the Tunnel for Commuter Rail Work in Belmont

Photo: A corner in Belmont being modify to allow commuter rail trains to travel up to 50 mph on the curve.

There will be a pair of noisy weekends in June and one weekend that month which a major Belmont road will be closed, but according to representatives from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the final bit of heavy construction on the commuter line in Belmont will be completed by the time the 4th of July comes around.

“We should have the cross-over rails installed as well as new signals at Brighton Road by the end of June,” Joe Nolan, a MBTA consultant told the Belmontonian after a presentation the authority made to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, April 8 to update the public and board on the status of the three-year Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project that runs through Belmont.

With the completion of this major work, “the only work needed will be making sure the new systems are performing as expected,” said Nolan.

But it will be two weekends – including night work – in June in which residents along Channing Road and surrounding streets will be subject to lights, traffic and noise associated with the laying of cross-over tracks, which guides commuter trains from one track to another.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 4.04.06 PM

In addition, the installation of modern signaling at the Brighton Road crossing will require that road near the intersection with Hittinger Street to be closed for a weekend also in June, said Eric Fleming, the MBTA’s project oversight manager.

When the final dates for the work are scheduled, the abutters and the town will receive either a flier or an email notice on the time and date of the overnight work.

The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. Until then, weekend service on the line will be suspended beginning on April 25 and running through Nov 22.

The $306 million project, which is financed by federal transportation grants, is expected to increase performance and lower travel times from Boston’s North Station to Fitchburg by installing new tracks and curb modifications to trains so they can travel up to 80 mph in certain areas of the route. There is also new and improved infrastructure such as new bridges and stations, parking garages and warning signals.

When told that trains will be traveling as fast as 80 mph in Belmont (when the tracks enter Belmont at the Cambridge line), Selectman Mark Paolillo asked if the Board could request those speeds be lower to the current 60 mph limit.

Nolan said that since the trains will likely be stopping at Belmont Station (in Belmont Center), the speed will be coming down rapidly as it approaches the station. In addition, even if an express train comes through the same station, it will be limited to 50 mph since it is on a curve.

He also told the board that allowing trains to run faster “was the objective of the MBTA” when accepting the project.

Paolillo said the new top-end speed is troublesome since generations of school children and some adults illegally trespass onto the tracks from the Winn Brook neighborhood to reach Belmont High School.

Fleming said such behavior by mostly young residents was something the town “can’t turn a blind eye to” pointing to the lack of enforcement to prevent the activity from occurring. He noted the MBTA has programs to inform the public of the dangers of walking along active rail tracks and would be willing to come to the High School with a presentation.

While Paolillo asked if funding could be secured to assist in the building of a tunnel or overpass in the area, Nolan said no designs or money was set aside in the project for such a use.

When told the best approach would request the funds from the legislature, Paolillo said the town should “accelerate” talks with State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Dave Rogers on relaying the need for a permanent solution.

While several Channing Road residents told the board and the MBTA that construction-related “vibrations” had resulted in structural damage to their homes, Fleming said the type of work in Belmont was akin to “replacing a water main” and not the jack-hammering associated with construction of roadways.