PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The state transportation department broke ground on a new commuter rail and bus station in Pawtucket in November 2018, and the hub is still about a year away from its planned opening. Once it opens, more than 500 people are expected to board trains there every day, and residents of Rhode Island as well as nearby Massachusetts town are expected to be consisted riders.
The project has cost about $58 million so far.
Governor Dan McKee, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Jeffrey Diehl, chief executive of Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, joined Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien at the construction site on Tuesday, where the Infrastructure Bank announced it has provided $850,000 in Transit Oriented Development financing towards road and stormwater infrastructure in the district.
The project, which will eventually include a transit epicenter to connect Boston to Providence, T.F. Green airport, and Wickford, providing a “seamless” connection between the MBTA commuter rail service and the RIPTA local bus service.
The announcement is part of United for Infrastructure Week, a nationwide effort to highlight the need to invest in and maintain the country’s critical infrastructure.
Diehl said that over the years, the Infrastructure Bank has invested more than $160 million in Central Falls and Pawtucket. The funds went to clean water, stormwater management, improving roads, and clean energy.
“We saved them $15 million in reduced energy costs. That’s money that could be sent on other priorities, such as public safety, health, education— frankly, other infrastructure,” said Diehl. “We’re celebrating the vision and partnership with the state and the two cities to transform them into vibrant centers of economic development.”
Infrastructure and transportation, he said, is the heart of that plan.
“As a lifelong Blackstone Valley guy, this is an exciting day for me,” said McKee.
Magaziner said Rhode Island is at a “critical” moment with a “once-in-a-lifetime” investment from the federal government’s stimulus to build infrastructure that will fuel a 21st-century economy, put people back to work, and improve the quality of life.
“We have to seize the opportunity. Be big, and be bold in our thinking,” said Magaziner.
The state leaders say that transit-related development in Pawtucket and Central Falls will strengthen other development efforts in the area as well as create a friendly business environment.
“I think the key is that we continue to invest in all forms of housing, including affordable housing,” Pryor told the Globe Tuesday after the press conference. To attract businesses or elevate the small businesses already in the community, Pryor said, “Creating transportation infrastructure and creating feet on the street that will support small businesses is key. You’ve got to create the customer base so businesses can survive and thrive.”
He said government can play a role, such as with investments, incentives, direct support coming out the COVID-19 pandemic, and a favorable tax climate. The Commerce department has also invested $300,000 toward this project.
“We’re doing all of those things,” he said. “But it’s so important that we have commuters and residents that will buy the goods and services.”
The original station on the Central Falls and Pawtucket border was built in 1915 with two island platforms and four tracks. But in 1959, the station building was closed, and Rhode Island stopped funding service past Attleboro in 1981. Each day, 72 trains pass along this corridor, but local residents don’t have access to them. If they want to take the train, they have to go in to Providence, to the station near the Rhode Island State House — an inconvenient or even difficult trip for many who live in this area.
“Many of our residents don’t have cars. Many of our students walk to school,” said Rivera.
Foundation work on the project will continue through May at the Providence and Boston-bound passenger platforms. Drainage installation is also underway at the Barton Street pedestrian drop-off, and the Centre Street access road for Amtrak is nearly complete.