Commuters eagerly awaiting the debut of a Brighton commuter rail station, courtesy of New Balance, will have to wait a while longer.
The Boston Landing commuter rail station — originally scheduled to open this year — is now expected to open in 2016, as developers have realized the planning process and construction work will require more time than originally expected.
For residents and business owners in the neighborhood eager for new public transportation options, the new expected completion date is a letdown. But the protracted timeline also illustrates some of the potential inconveniences of the state’s new push for public-private partnerships: When private companies foot the bill for major infrastructure projects, the state may find itself beholden to their timeline.
The commuter rail station, on the Worcester-Framingham line, is estimated to cost $14 million to $16 million and is financed by New Boston Landing LLC, New Balance’s development company. It would provide service to the shoe company’s scores of employees, as well as direct access to the company’s planned Boston Landing development, a complex of restaurants, shops, a hotel, and athletic facilities under construction.
Additionally, the station is viewed as an act of goodwill to New Balance’s neighbors, providing the lone commuter rail station between the Fenway and Newton.
Two years ago, New Balance spokeswoman Amy Dow said construction of the station was anticipated to conclude in 2014. At a meeting of the state Department of Transportation board’s finance committee last year, the expected opening date changed to mid- to-late 2015. Now, Dow says, fall 2016 has become the new completion date, after engineers and construction experts ironed out the scope and details of the project.
“We were probably a little aggressive coming out the gate, as there are a lot of moving parts to the commuter rail station project and process,” Dow said in an e-mail.
New Boston Landing’s contract with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows an estimated completion date of July 2016, although the document states that the company donating the station “shall have the right to reasonably adjust or extend the dates set forth . . . for completion.”
MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes said the project is now adhering to the schedule outlined in that agreement. Even so, the agency has little recourse if construction runs longer, he said. After all, the state’s not paying for it, so the timeline is out of its hands.
“Even if it was behind schedule, there aren’t any financial penalties because the private entity has agreed to foot that bill,” Verseckes said.
News of the station’s later opening date is further disappointment for residents who have also hoped for a rail station near Allston Village; MassDOT officials said last week they have no immediate plans to make that project a reality.
Ali Carter, executive director of Brighton Main Streets, said community members have been anxiously awaiting the station’s debut. Some hope to commute in from the western suburbs, and others envision using the trains for quick access to jobs in the Financial District. Locals wish the station would open sooner, but have also been pleased with New Balance’s efforts to seek feedback from the community.
“As much as everyone wants everything to be up and running soon,” Carter said, “New Balance is doing everything right in getting community feedback. . . . I think that actually goes a long way to people being patient with them.”
It is an issue that the state could encounter more frequently in the future, as the Transportation Department considers other opportunities for public-private partnerships.
One year ago, the Transportation Department launched a commission to help usher in more partnerships with the private sector. Now, that commission is mulling the idea of enlisting a private company to build a new bridge to Cape Cod, where the developer could potentially charge tolls and collect the revenue.
Steve Poftak, executive director of Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said that in a project like Boston Landing, where a private company is ultimately paying the bill, it can be difficult to negotiate financial penalties for late construction.
“In this project, there’s not a huge impact caused by this delay,” Poftak said. “It’s inconvenient to people, but it doesn’t critically impact infrastructure in any way. To make the deal happen, you wouldn’t build in some sort of punitive risk package. Then the private entity wouldn’t want to make the deal.”
But if the state embarks on public-private partnerships related to higher-stakes infrastructure projects — affecting roads, bridges, or tracks already used by commuters — it would be necessary for state officials to take a harder look at negotiating for financial penalties, even if it is not the state paying for the project.
“When you don’t make it economically compelling to get the project done on schedule, than it’s less pressing for them to finish when they say they will,” Poftak said.