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New plan for Union Station due out later this summer

A new plan to re-open and renovate long dormant Union Station is expected to be released within the next 60 days. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD According to David Panagore, the city's chief development officer, a new plan for the redevelopment of Union Station in Springfield will be released within 60 to 90 days.

Panagore made the statement at a press conference called by MASSPIRG on the release of a new report calling for more development of public transportation. The event was conducted outside of the Frank B. Murray Street entrance of the long-shuttered station.

The MASSPIRG report noted the rising cost of fuel has consumed the stimulus check received by most Americans and that ridership on public transit systems is up. The report calls for additional investment in public transit, such as the proposed Springfield to New Haven, Conn. commuter rail line.

MASSPIRG Policy Analyst Phineas Baxandall said, "Massachusetts residents need better transportation options to reduce driving."

For the first time in 30 years, he said, Americans are driving less than the previous years. Current public transportation created a net oil savings of 154.1 gallons of fuel in Massachusetts in 2006, he said.

Timothy Brennan, the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, called Union Station redevelopment a "perfect solution," as it would bring together various mass transit services in one place.

"This is one opportunity we can not fumble," he said.

Rebecca Townsend of the Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail, said that ridership on the Amtrak Springfield line Amtrak originates a train in Springfield which serves the eastern corridor to Washington, D.C. announced that ridership has seen an increase of 9 percent his year over last.

"There are many reasons we need rail," she said. "We commute we need rail. We breathe polluted air we need fewer cars on the roads. We live in greater Springfield region our regional economy needs increased development. Commuter rail lines have brought that development in other parts of the country. Our gateway city needs the $52 million in new economic activity commuter rail can bring."

State Reps. Cheryl Coakley Rivera, Sean Curran and Rosemary Sandlin also expressed their support of the Union Station project and increased mass transportation options.

Panagore said he and others have been trying to "untangle the spaghetti mess" caused by the failure of previous efforts to renovate and re-open the building. The station was built in 1926 and was largely closed in the early 1970s. Amtrak had used the Lyman Street entrance of th eold terminal as its waiting and ticketing areas starting in the mid-1970s and then built a small terminal next to the tracks.

The plan remains the station would be a hub for trains, Peter Pan and Pioneer Valley transit Authority buses and taxis.

The Springfield Redevelopment Authority owns the building and funding held by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority for the renovation is still in place, he said. He said the new plan is coming from a different perspective by lining up the transportation tenants first and pricing leases with "market realities" in mind.

He said the difference with this plan is to focus on the business deal first and holding off on a detailed plan. He said the business deal would be "vetted and re-vetted."

One of the issues confronting planners during the last effort to re-open the building was the concept of having all of the buses travel up over the train tracks to pick up passengers from a waiting area there. The idea was to eliminate some of the potential traffic problems from routing dozens of buses through that part of downtown.

Panagore there were liability and right of way issues the city does not own the tracks that couldn't be solved. He said one new solution might be to demolish part of the baggage building to make more room for the bus traffic.

Kevin Kennedy, the district director for Rep. Richard Neal, said that Neal supports the Union Station project and that the proposed commuter rail line would be "the icing on the cake. Transportation is "a critical component for economic growth," he said.