AYER -- Residents are calling for a solution to the Ayer commuter rail access issue by Labor Day, the latest stress on transportation officials that will leave the head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority with over 160 signed postcards.
The Ayer Rail Train Station Advisory Committee, tasked with working with officials to help resolve the problem, collected the signatures on postcards that urged MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott to find a solution by September 1.
The town is still left without an identifiable pedestrian path from the Ayer commuter parking lot to the station. The path would run over Phil Berry's downtown property in Depot Square, where commuters typically walk to reach the train.
Without an agreeable path, the plan to expand the current Ayer commuter parking lot near Main Street is on hold. The project, which would involve purchasing parcels on Park Street, received $3.2 million in federal funds in 2012 -- money that cannot be accessed until officials identify a pedestrian way.
The slow pace of the project, now an idea that's more than 10 years old, was brought to public attention in April, when Berry erected a fence along the outskirts of his property. A portion of the fence later came down, and the MBTA set about finding a resolution within 30 days.
More than two months later, the MBTA is still working out an agreement.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email that the property owner has been "less than cooperative with the MBTA," and the MBTA has asked local legislators for assistance.
"Like the customers who use the train station, we are frustrated by the property owner's unwillingness to work with the MBTA to develop a resolution," he said.
Berry has not returned any requests for comment since April.
The Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, which is working on the parking project, claims Berry's deed to the property requires him to have a public right-of-way and also a passenger building. Residents also sent a petition to the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in May urging officials to make Berry comply with the requirements.
The postcards are the latest citizen-led push to find a pathway that will allow the parking project to proceed.
"I appreciate the efforts of the MBTA to negotiate defined access for the Depot Square property in Ayer per the deed restriction with the owner," each postcard reads. "I urge you to set a firm deadline before Labor Day for finalizing a solution."
The postcard statement argues that the Ayer station is an extremely busy station on the Fitchburg line.
"Difficulty in accessing the platform, or finding parking, may cause many of us to look to alternative solutions for our commute to Boston," the postcards state.
Jeremy Callahan, a member of the advisory committee, said most signatures came from commuters on the train. Money for the postage came from a collection among volunteers, he said.
"We're hoping that by sending them the postcards, we get noticed," he said.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the MBTA and Berry have not yet met, and is working on planning a meeting with both parties sometime in August. He said he spoke to an MBTA attorney and Berry's attorney this week.
"Now that I've spoken to both parties and it's clear that they haven't met, and there hasn't been a real negotiation, now I will do the outreach to see if we can have that meeting," he said.
Eldridge said state representatives Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, and Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, are also working on the outreach.
"I share the frustration that residents in Ayer and municipal officials have that there has not yet been a meeting between the property owner and the MBTA, because that's the only way we move forward," he said.
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