By Sue Moynagh
On Wednesday, February 26, the WRTA held a public meeting at the Green Island Neighborhood Center. At a press conference on April 21, 2011, it was announced that the WRTA Vehicle Maintenance and Operations facility would relocate from Grove Street to 40 Quinsigamond Avenue. A series of meetings were held to gauge public opinion. This was the fourth meeting of this series, the last having taken place on October 9, 2013.
At this meeting, WRTA Administrator Steve O’Neil and STV, Inc.Associate Project Manager Neal Depasquale presented the designs for the facility, including building, grounds and immediate neighborhood layout. This presentation emphasized two aspects of the design: community “friendliness” and environmental mitigation. There were about twenty people present including State Representatives Dan Donahue and Mary Keefe, City Councilor Sarai Rivera and Jonathan Church from the Central Mass. Regional Planning Commission. Most of those present were members of the Green Island Residents Group, Inc. Executive Director Ron Charette of SWNIC also attended. There were a few questions and concerns raised, primarily about traffic issues, but most of those in attendance were pleased with the plans.
The new WRTA facility will be located at 40 Quinsigamond Avenue, which is currently limited development brownfield. It will be situated on approximately 11 acres of land on what used to be the Commonwealth and then NStar Gas Company site. Steve O’Neil was the first to speak. He said that the design was about 30% completed, and he wanted to include neighborhood opinions throughout the process. The WRTA is getting close to purchase of the parcel. One small easement problem needs to be ironed out, but he says they want to “hit the ground running this spring” when it comes to actual development of the property. Mr. O’Neil also emphasized the importance of making the building and grounds community friendly.
Then, Neal Depasquale showed conceptual site plans and explained how the space will be used in order to be efficient and also have low impact on the neighborhood. The façade will be similar to that of the Hub Terminal Building near Union Station. There will be some brick work with a middle panel utilizing soft grays and blues. Windows will be placed along the storage area. Although they have no functional purpose inside the building, they will make the building look less industrial from the outside. There will be a trellis-like approach to the building that will partially block the view, and the DPW pump station will also block pedestrian view.
The building will have two levels. The lower level will be for maintaining and storing the buses and will be approximately 137,000 square feet. The 13,000 square foot upper level will hold administration offices, state-of-the-art training areas, a library and operations offices. There will be visual contact with the site entrances for added security. The building will be ADA compliant on both levels.
There will be two entryways onto the site. Buses will come into the main entrance across from Endicott Street. They will immediately move to the back of the site adjacent to the railroad tracks so as not to be visible from the street. There will be maintenance and storage areas within the facility out of site of the public. At present, there are 52 buses and 28 demand response vans, with plans to purchase more. There will be limits on noise and idling. Fuel delivery and storage is also in the back. The other entrance, onto Southbridge Street, will be for emergency use, particularly if flooding occurs.
How will this facility be community friendly? There will be a community room that can be booked for events and meetings that can hold up to 50 people. This will be perfect when the Community Room in the Green Island Neighborhood Center is being utilized or is too small for an event. This room will be on the ground floor. There will also be a kitchenette off the community room for employee and function use. There will be two parking lots immediately inside the main gate. One lot will hold 100 spaces for operators, and the other auxiliary lot of 50 spaces may be used on occasion by neighborhood residents, most likely when the community room is booked. There will be three shifts, so the building will be open at night.
The main building entry way is across the street from Crompton Park and will obviously include a ramp for accessibility. The lobby and community room will be right inside. There will be security measures including surveillance cameras at the gates just outside the entryway. Buses entering will use transponders to automatically open the gates upon arrival. The storage and maintenance portion of the building will include five overhead doors, adjustable according to weather conditions, which will facilitate movement of the buses. The design focus is to make the building both welcoming and secure from all four points.
Traffic concerns were brought up by a few in attendance. Will there be traffic problems near the park and on Southbridge Street during peak traffic hours, especially during inclement weather? How about noise? Mr. O’Neil stated that no traffic mitigation measures were necessary according to the traffic analysis draft. The buses will be leaving the facility very early in the morning, between 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. well before normal peak traffic hours. Many of the buses will be returning at night, after 8:00 p.m., some even coming in between 11:00 p.m. and midnight. As for noise, many of the newer hybrid and electric buses are very quiet in comparison to the older diesel models.
When buses arrive back, they are flagged for storage or maintenance service, fueled, washed and then stored or sent for repairs. There will be 8 service bays for inspecting, repairing and cleaning the buses, above and below the vehicle and for wheel alignments.
At this point, environmental concerns were addressed. Both speakers affirmed that the design was environmentally sustainable. For instance, skylights will introduce natural light to operations and maintenance areas of the building. Standing trees will have to be removed but low shrubs will be planted around the entrance way. Budget constraints will limit landscaping, but if cuts have to be made, most of them will impact the interior of the storage area. Mr. O’Neil said, “We want the neighborhood to be proud of the building.”
One resident voiced concerns about the emergency entrance way. Lafayette Street is a narrow street and she asked how increased traffic would affect pedestrian traffic. She was told that they would revisit the area, and work with the city for necessary sidewalk and streetlight improvements. She also requested a “virtual reality” type of presentation, which would show traffic and pedestrians in motion. The designers would try to comply with the request for the next meeting.
Rep. Mary Keefe asked about water conservation. Could rain and snow melt water be collected for washing the buses and landscaping? The designers would have to look at the payback. It could possibly cost more to harvest water than to use city water supplies. Since flooding is an issue for the site, the facility has to be designed to raise it approximately 6 feet above the flood plain, and allow for underground storage of excess water. The gradient will control movement of the water and the gravel and plastic- lined storage area will prevent overflow or leakage of water into the flood plain. Barriers would not be necessary. Mr. O’ Neil did state that existing problems with flooding in the neighborhood will most likely remain, but will not be exacerbated by the facility. Plans will be viewed by the Conservation Commission.
The meeting lasted about an hour, and attendees had opportunity to speak one on one with the presenters and view plans close up. More meetings will be scheduled as work proceeds. Steve O’Neil also told residents that he would be glad to answer any questions that come up between meetings and they should feel free to contact him. These public meetings are well- advertised and are a perfect opportunity to be a part of this process and I hope residents and stakeholders will continue to express their concerns, ask questions or make suggestions.