EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 7, 2013

Officials meet today on MBTA feasibility study

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — Plaistow and Atkinson officials are continuing to explore bringing the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to Southern New Hampshire.

Representatives from both towns will be in Concord today to discuss a feasibility plan with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

It has not yet been decided whether a feasibility plan will be set forth, but it is one of the first steps which needs to be done before anything is finalized.

“This meeting is just an opportunity for the Department of Transportation to get the perspective of the local communities which will be impacted,” said Mark Sanborn, federal liaison at NHDOT.

For several years, town leaders have wanted to extend the commuter rail into Plaistow and build a layover station close to the town line with Atkinson.

Residents of Plaistow voted decisively, 619-308, in a non-binding vote at Town Meeting last year against any potential projects.

“We are in a fact-finding phase right now,” Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said. “I think the meeting will help us get to this information and give the citizens of Plaistow information based on science and based on fact.”

A commuter rail line would go through Plaistow and be connected to the Haverhill MBTA line. A layover station is now in Bradford, Mass.

Sanborn said he would like to hear from as many voices as possible before going forward with any feasibility study. Both Fitzgerald and Atkinson Town Administrator Bill Innes will attend the meeting today, as will selectmen from both towns.

Also attending the meeting will be Robert Clark, the chairman of the Atkinson Rail Committee. Clark says he is representing the residents of Atkinson who are against the project.

“Our major concerns are the noise,” Clark said. “It’s not just a train station, it’s a layover yard with horse-powered diesel engines. We want to know what we will be subjected to.”

Sanborn said noise would be just one of many factors that would be included in the study.

“We look at air quality, water and noise impacts among many other environmental factors,” he said. “It looks at potential impacts on traffic. We review any impacts on economic development. We look at projections for ridership, and then capital costs and operating costs.”

State transportation officials have approved spending federal money for a feasibility study, he said.

Sanborn stressed that doing the feasibility study does not guarantee the project would move forward. The study will include scenarios with all possible options that are being considered. He would not go into details about the specific locations of either the rail extension or the layover station.

”We want to gather enough information and be able to follow up on it,” Sanborn said. “We’ll then go to the Executive Council and say whether or not this makes sense.”