By Mia Ping-Chieh Chen
BU News Service
BOSTON — Local legislators and the Attleboro City Council are pushing the MBTA to complete repairs to stairways and an overhead walkway at the South Attleboro commuter rail station, calling the walkway “a dilapidated eyesore.”
The walkway is used by commuters to cross the busy road that runs between the train platform and the South Attleboro MBTA parking lot. The structure is completely rusted and there are holes in the stairs as well as other visible damage. Jagged pieces of rusty, loose metal can be found on the stairs, the ground below them and the walkway itself.
In a letter to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak last month, the lawmakers said they receive constant requests from constituents expressing safety concerns, with many riders saying they refuse to use the station because they fear using the stairway.
Repairs to the overhead walkway are considered a matter of urgency to the local delegation, the letter stated, and Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said they have invited Poftak to visit the train station and see the dilapidated stairs for himself.
“You can’t see that and not say we’ve got to do something immediately,” Hawkins said.
He believes the MBTA would agree the walkway is decrepit.
“I think he needs to view it himself,” added state Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, who recently called Poftak and the MBTA twice to discuss the repairs. “We are very anxious to have this happen.”
Other delegation members who signed the letter were Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, and Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk. The other letter was sent by City Councilor President Mark Cooper, council Vice President Heather Porreca and Councilor Sara Lynn Reynolds.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Poftak would offer a formal response, but didn’t give any further details, adding the MBTA will continue to explore and review potential options for the station.
“Satisfying the transit needs of the community will be the primary objective as the process of making long-term decisions advances,” Pesaturo said in an email.
Hawkins said the repair had been a long-term issue for the city, and he has been working on the project since he was elected last April. Hawkins recently attended two hearings of the MBTA Fiscal Review Board and had conversations directly with them.
“I know they’re listening. I know they’re considering it. But they haven’t decided yet,” Hawkins said.
The MBTA told Hawkins in May that some ground-level recommendations are proceeding, but the overpass is not among them. The estimated $4.9 million renovation covers crosswalk accessibility, new lighting at station platform parking lots, new benches at the station and redesign of the parking lots for space increase.
Even though there have been no accidents on the overpass or stairs, the delegation worries it’s just a matter of time.
“It is very much on my mind that something bad is going to happen,” Hawkins said.
In early September, the council approved a zoning change for the property at 495 Collins St., which is across the street from the South Attleboro commuter rail station parking lot. The change allows the construction of a parking lot with 104 spaces, which would increase the capacity of the current 579-space MBTA parking lot. The new lot would help address the lack of adequate parking for those who want to commute into Boston.
The repair or renovation of the overpass can enhance access for commuters from parking lots to the other side of the commuter rail station platform, Hawkins said.
“If you can’t get there before 7:30 in the morning, you can’t get a parking space,” Hawkins said of the current overwhelming demands on the lot.
With more parking spaces, more local residents can choose to take commuter rail rather than drive on I-95, and congestion could be reduced.
“It would ease a lot of crunches right now, but it’s held up by this overpass,” Hawkins said.
This article was originally published in the Attleboro Sun-Times.