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Lowell garage project gets $2.5m federal funding boost

The Lowell Regional Transit Authority will proceed with the reconstruction of an aging parking garage as a result of $2.5 million awarded in federal funding.

The award from the state Department of Transportation completes the financing needed to carry out the $9 million project, according to Jim Scanlan, the authority’s administrator.

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Now in the design phase, the project calls for replacing the concrete decks of the oldest of the three garages at the authority’s Gallagher Intermodal Transportation Center on the edge of downtown Lowell.

“Our Gallagher I garage is over 30 years old and it’s in critical need of repairs,” said Kevin O’Connor of Tyngsborough, the chairman of the authority’s board of directors. “And it’s a vastly important part of the transportation services we provide in the Merrimack Valley.”

The LRTA was one of 10 regional transit authorities chosen to share in $13.2 million awarded by the state for 11 capital improvement projects, according to MassDOT’s transportation blog.

The money is available through an Obama administration “We Can’t Wait” initiative that allows states to reallocate unused federal transportation earmarks from 2003 to 2006 to support highway and transit projects that can obligate the funds by the end of this year.

“This initiative puts federal funds to work, jump-starting projects in the Commonwealth that may otherwise have remained dormant during these difficult economic times,” US Representative Niki Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, said in a prepared statement. “With the Gallagher Terminal project ready to go, these funds can be put to use immediately for the benefit of Lowell residents.”

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The Gallagher Intermodal Transportation Center on Thorndike Street serves as a hub for the authority’s bus and van services, and as an MBTA commuter rail station, the northern terminus of the Lowell line.

The LRTA serves 14 communities, providing bus service to Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, and Westford, and van service for seniors and the disabled in those communities and Acton, Carlisle, Dunstable, Groton, Maynard, Pepperell, and Townsend. Peter Pan also uses the center as a station for its inter-city bus lines, and other private carriers use the terminal as a stop for their daily trips to and from the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos.  

The center complex encompasses a four-story terminal building and the 350-space Gallagher I garage, both of which opened in 1983; the adjacent Robert B. Kennedy Bus Transfer Center, which opened in 2005; the 235-space Gallagher II Garage  and the Robert Maguire Building –  the operations and maintenance facility for the van service – both of which opened in 1992; and the 394-space Raymond Rourke Garage, which opened in 2002.  

Over the past five years, the authority has spent about $800,000 to replace portions of the concrete deck surfaces in the Gallagher I Garage that have broken away because of age and the elements, Scanlan said.

Authority engineers have warned that by altering the building’s structural design, the repairs themselves may be compromising the integrity of the structure.

Scanlan said the authority decided to pursue the current project earlier this year when regional Federal Transit Administration officials, responding to a request by LRTA for funds to carry out additional repairs, advised it would be most cost-effective and prudent to do the larger project.

Despite that recommendation, the FTA’s Washington office turned down LRTA’s bid for a $9 million grant for the project. But Scanlan said that by combining the recent $2.5 million grant with unspent funds from previous projects and from its capital budgets over the last two fiscal years, the authority is able to cover the project cost.

In addition to replacing the decks, the project will provide the garage with new lighting, drainage, and fire alarm systems.

The steel structure will remain intact.

Scanlan noted that the project is essential to the continued use not only of the Gallagher I garage but of the Gallagher II garage, since the latter is accessible only through the Gallagher 1.

Officials hope to have the project design finished by the spring, and construction underway by July or August, and completed in late summer 2014.

Scanlan said the LRTA hopes to ensure there is adequate parking during construction through greater use of the Rourke Garage and using part of the bus staging area as a makeshift lot.

Also in this region, the Cape Ann Transportation Authority was awarded $408,179 to replace the roof of its bus storage and maintenance facility in Gloucester. The authority serves Essex, Ipswich, Gloucester, and Rockport, providing bus service to Gloucester and Rockport and van service in all four communities. It also provides contracted bus service for Beverly.

The roof of CATA’s Pond Road bus storage and maintenance facility — which also provides office space for CATA and Gloucester city departments — is in sore need of replacement, according to Paul Talbot, the authority’s administrator.

“It’s 28 years old and has outlived its usefulness,” he said, noting the plastic and crushed stone surface is brittle and prone to breaking, and sections of the roof have begun to pull away from the building, allowing rain to get in.

Replacement of the roof is expected to begin next month and weather permitting, be complete by mid-January, Talbot said.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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