Leaders, Riders Seek Improved MBTA Plan

Commuter rail plans summer shutdowns for safety work

A Gloucester woman named Gregg Zoske said she has remained a faithful rider of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s commuter rail system — through weather cancellations, infrastructure problems and more.

“Every day, we contribute to put our trust in a system that is crumbling around us,” she told 150 people gathered for a forum Wednesday night at City Hall. “I depend wholly on commuter rail to get to work six days a week.”

She and the others were there to protest the MBTA’s plan to shut down weekend rail service on the Rockport line that serves Cape Ann this summer to install a federally-mandated Positive Train Control infrastructure system. The T then plans to suspend service north of Salem from July 17 to Aug. 13 to replace the Beverly swing bridge and prepare for replacement of the Gloucester drawbridge that crosses the Annisquam River.

As of Thursday, the MBTA has not announced a mitigation plan. And neither MBTA nor Department of Transportation officials showed up for Thursday’s forum, which was slated for discuss precisely that.

“This is gross negligence,” said Zoske, one of more than a dozen speakers who made their points to state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, state Reps. Ann-Margaret Ferrante and Brad Hill, and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, who hosted the meeting with the DOT and MBTA in absentia.

The 90-minute forum drew elected officials from Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester, communities with stops on the MBTA’s Rockport line. They and a handful of regular riders echoed Zoske’s concerns and more.

The event took on the temper of a rally, with Tarr, Romeo Theken and City Councilors Melissa Cox and Val Gilman soliciting signatures on paper and digital petitions demanding that “alternative public transit must be made available” during the scheduled full service shutdown.

Christopher Sicuranza, the mayor’s director of constituent services, said the petition drew more 150 in-person signatures Tuesday night, while the online version had generated 574 signatures as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

The City Hall event was the first of three planned forums that had been scheduled for residents to address the DOT and MBTA. Tarr and Hill said the transit agencies have said their representatives will not attend the other sessions either. Those forums, scheduled for Monday in Newburyport and Tuesday in Beverly, will go on as scheduled, with the legislators recording the sessions and vowing to deliver residents’ remarks to the state agencies.

“They’ll get the message, don’t worry,” Ferrante said just prior to the Gloucester forum’s start. “I understand that they may still be working on a (busing alternative or other mitigation) plan, but they could have at least shown respect for the community and sent someone up here to listen to people’s concerns. This tells me they want to put a plan in place, then tell us what the plan is before they get our input. That’s not the way to work.”

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a Thursday email to the Times that the agency simply “continues to explore options.” He did not elaborate,

Manchester Selectman Eli Boling said that, beyond any bus arrangements, those options should include pushing the work back to thef all and winter months. The shutdowns as planned, he said, would cut deeply into his town’s revenues from the beaches and the meals tax if riders aren’t able to make their way to the seaside village.

“There are no words to express our thoughts,” he said, noting that much of the town’s $100,000 in beach revenue is drawn from “walk-up” visitors who arrive by train.

Ken Riehl, CEO of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said similar losses would be felt across the region. He read comments submitted to the chamber from businesses outlining how the shutdowns would affect them. He said the chamber board has sent a letter to the agencies and to lawmakers urging that, at the every least, the shutdown should be pushed back to after Labor Day. He said the chamber estimates that the shutdowns could sock businesses with summer sales losses of 15 percent or more.

“We know this work has to be done,” he said. “These are not just numbers, but real people and businesses that will be affected if these closings are not moved out of the summer season.”

Read more at gloucestertimes.com.
Article by Ray Lamont Staff Writer

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