MART readies for new facility; Gardner groundbreaking.
GARDNER - A change started by a local senior citizen in the late 1970s may help restore a blighted area near Union Square and transportation services to the region.
On Aug. 20, the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority will break ground for a $5.38 million bus maintenance facility on land off Main Street bought from the Boston and Maine Railroad. The land is the site of a former warehouse that burned in 2002.
The project will significantly improve an area, already in transition, that had been neglected for many years.
Mayor Gerald E. St. Hilaire said that when he was first mayor in the late 1970s, there was no bus or train service in the city and that its many seniors got around the best they could, riding in taxis, with friends or driving their own vehicles.
The mayor said Thomas H. Binnall changed all that.
Mr. Binnall, for whom the Binnall House senior citizen housing on Connors Street was named, came to the mayor's office one day lobbying for senior issues - one of which was a lack of bus service in the city. The city had not had bus service for many years since the Flanagan Bus Service shut down in the 1960s.
The mayor said he made Mr. Binnall, a Marine World War I veteran, the city senior citizens advocate. He took Mr. Binnall's concerns seriously.
"I got together with the mayor of Fitchburg at the time, who was then David Gilmartin, and Leominster Mayor Joseph Moriarity, and at a table in this office signed documents to create MART."
The mayors also hired Mohammed Khan, MART's first and only head administrator.
Mayor St. Hilaire said the new maintenance facility will provide jobs through the construction and at the new facility; it will keep maintenance of the local fleet of buses in the city; and clean up a brush-covered vacant lot.
The lot is near where tracks operated by Springfield Terminal Railway and the Providence & Worcester Railroad meet. Much of the rest of the area has been made over in the past 10 years. The mayor said the new building will be next to Chair City Oil Co., which has renovated its property in recent years. It is also across the street from Rome Furniture Co., which has its store in a completely renovated former furniture factory.
The project is one of several in the city focused on restoring blighted areas. The city is developing an urban renewal plan that would outline what changes could be made to improve the quality of life in the city.
Elizabeth Salk, assistant administrator for MART, said the new facility replaces a former maintenance facility at Pine and Main streets that was once a car dealership. She said the present maintenance facility is too small to serve the buses, which not only provide service within Gardner, but also, through the G-Link, out to Orange, over to Fitchburg and up to Winchendon.
The service to Fitchburg allows people to catch a bus in Orange and travel all the way to Boston. The bus service goes to the Fitchburg train-bus intermodal center, where riders can catch the commuter rail to Boston.
The land the maintenance facility will be built on was bought by the Gardner Redevelopment Authority from the Boston and Maine Railroad in 2005. The authority then sold the property to MART.
The project is one of several MART projects in recent years as the agency attempts to modernize its service. The biggest project was building a parking garage at the intermodal center in Fitchburg. MART also added parking at the North Leominster commuter rail stop. As MART breaks ground for the Gardner project, it is also seeking proposals to build a vehicle storage facility on Water Street near its main bus garage in Fitchburg.
Mr. St. Hilaire said the new bus facility is also being built with an eye to the future. When MART was created in the 1970s, it was mainly focused on bus service.
"Our goal initially was to maintain bus service available then in Fitchburg and Leominster and bring bus service to Gardner," he said.
At the time, the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority's commuter rail service extended only out to Acton. The three mayors worked with state officials to bring the commuter rail to Fitchburg, significantly improving the commute to Boston for residents of northern Central Massachusetts. In 1980, that service was expanded to Gardner on a trial basis.
"It was basically `use it or lose it,'" the mayor said. "We didn't use it enough."
The service was ended after about two years. The problem, he said, was the commute at the time from the city was too long for people who worked in Boston. For people without strict timetables, traveling to the city to visit attractions or shop, the service was fine.
The MBTA has been looking for years into ways it can cut commute times and possibly install high-speed rail service. Ms. Salk said the MART facility in Gardner will be built with that possibility in mind.
"It's located right along the railroad tracks," she said.
Mr. St. Hilaire said restoration of the commuter rail service is still a long way off, but that the new MART building will include an area that can be converted to a ticket sales office and a waiting area for train commuters.
The groundbreaking ceremony will be at 10 a.m. Aug. 20. Among those expected to speak is U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, who was instrumental in getting the federal financing for the project, Ms. Salk said. The project will be paid for with 80 percent federal grant money and 10 percent from the state.
NAME: MONTACHUSETT AREA REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY
CUTLINE: A new Montachusett Regional Transit Authority facility will be built near railroad tracks on Main Street in Gardner.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR
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|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Aug 12, 2007|
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