Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and members of the City Council are asking state lawmakers to allocate $85 million toward long-sought upgrades at three MBTA commuter rail stations in the city.
The proposed project would improve accessibility at the MBTA’s aging Framingham/Worcester Line stations in Auburndale, West Newton, and Newtonville. It would also lead to greater train service and help the environment by encouraging more transit ridership, according to Newton officials.
“It is not an overstatement to say that this project will be truly transformational – not only for Newton but for the entire MetroWest region,” the councilors said in a June 20 letter to Senator Michael J. Rodrigues and Representative Aaron Michelwitz, the leaders of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
The estimated construction cost for the three new stations is $170 million, according to the councilors’ letter, which seeks partial funding from the state’s supplemental budget. State and local leaders are also seeking federal matching funds for the project.
The outdoor commuter rail stations, tucked low to the ground alongside the Massachusetts Turnpike, have long been a concern for residents and local leaders.
They are reached by long stairways from bridges overhead, making them inaccessible to many commuter rail riders and difficult to navigate in inclement weather. And their single-platform design means they can only serve riders traveling in one direction at any given time.
The MassDOT Commuter Rail Accessibility Improvements project, if completed, would allow the stations to simultaneously serve passengers traveling westbound and those heading eastbound. It would also erect new, raised platforms at the stations and other accessibility improvements.
“Double platforms would open up the possibility of much more frequent service for all riders, including those who currently do not take the train but would if there was more frequent service,” the letter said.
Greater ridership, and fewer commuters relying on private automobiles, would also be a benefit for the environment, according to the councilors’ letter.
“Reducing car usage means less traffic and congestion, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and also improved air quality in all neighborhoods that Newton and Metrowest commuters drive through, such as Boston which has among the highest asthma levels in the Northeast,” the councilors’ letter said.
Letters from Newton city leaders said advocates for the project include its state legislative delegation — Senator Cynthia Creem and representatives Kay Khan, Ruth Balser, and John Lawn — as well as US Representative Jake Auchincloss, a former city councilor.
“We are working closely with Congressman Auchincloss and our partners at MassDOT and the MBTA to secure federal matching funds,” Mayor Fuller said in a separate June 17 letter. “This transformative project matches well with funding opportunities in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law recently passed by Congress, so we are optimistic.”
The City Council letter was signed by 23 of the board’s 24 members. Lenny Gentile, a Ward 4 councilor-at-large, did not sign and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The push for public transit upgrades for the commuter rail comes as city leaders in Newton press the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to restore Express Bus routes to their pre-pandemic levels.
In their letters regarding the commuter rail work, city leaders said thousands of new homes have been approved in Newton in recent years, many of which are close to the commuter rail stations.
The city is also in the midst of rezoning discussions to comply with a recent state law intended to create denser housing near transit stations, they said.
“Improving these three stops, and thereby reducing barriers to the mobility-challenged, as well as allowing improvements in service, would send a strong message not only to our residents but to local leaders across the Commonwealth that the Legislature is a true partner to communities doing their part to address our housing shortage,” the letter said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.