EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 30, 2013

Plaistow MBTA feasibility study underway

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — PLAISTOW — The kinks are being ironed out as the $659,000 study to look at the possibility of bringing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail and layover station to Plaistow begins.

Representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and HDR Engineering, the manufacturing firm conducting the study, appeared before selectmen on Monday to give an update.

“We just wanted to introduce our team to the selectmen,” said Patrick Herlihy, the director of aeronautic rail and transit for NHDOT. “They asked a few questions, and they seemed to be satisfied with what we presented.”

In 2010, Plaistow received a $10 million grant from NHDOT to pursue extending the MBTA commuter rail line from Haverhill to Plaistow. But the first step is determining whether this is even attainable.

“We’re on our way,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said. “This is part of the first step. We want to make sure we are communicating to stakeholders and supporting the public information exchange that will help us inform residents of the project.”

Sites between the Haverhill station and Plaistow’s border with Newton will be considered in the study. But two sites that were ruled out due to an agreement between Plaistow and Atkinson were the Penn Box site on Main Street and the Westville Homes site on the border of Atkinson and Plaistow.

On Monday, Herlihy laid out the four phases of the study. Each phase will take about four months.

“This is more of a planning stage,” Herlihy said. “We want to scope what exactly we will study and get input from different parties.”

That phase started in August with a listening session, where residents told NHDOT what they would like to see studied.

Herlihy expects the real meat of the study to begin this winter.

“We’ll be conducting environmental reviews, a ridership forecast,” Herlihy said. “We’ll also look to see what infrastructure it would require.”

Fitzgerald hopes the study will better inform residents of the benefits of bringing the MBTA to Plaistow.

“We are ultimately looking to ensure we can support an informed and educated decision,” he said. “There’s a lot of information people need to understand to make an intelligent decision either way.”

In a nonbinding referendum in 2012, 619 residents said they would not be in favor of a layover station in Plaistow, and 308 residents said they would be in favor of a station, while 227 residents requested more information.

Herlihy said in the spring, there will be a cost benefit analysis and planners will prune the available options. By next summer, they will be ready to present their recommendations to the town.

“It’s still very early right now,” he said. “But we want to keep the public informed throughout the project so they can see what we’re doing.”