By Anne O'Connor
AYER -- Residents got a first look at three concept plans for commuter rail parking which includes improved access to the train platform.
After hearing public input on the designs, the Board of Selectmen will make the final decision, said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. The plans were unveiled during a selectmen's meeting on Feb. 7.
"This is all part of a process," Pontbriand said. "There is still a lot of work to be done."
Currently the larger lot on Park Street has 84 spaces. An additional lot across the street has about 20 spaces and is not included in the concept plans.
That lot would be resurfaced and repainted, Pontbriand said.
The town has an option to buy one building on the west side of Park Street and that land could be used for additional parking or green space in any of the three concept plans.
The most ambitious plan presented by the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority brings the number of spaces to 226. It calls for a second level of parking above the main lot accessed by a ramp visible from Park Street.
The existing rail trail would need to be relocated and a wall reaching 17 feet high would be installed between the trail and the housing behind it. This extension has 28 spaces and a price tag of $1 million to $1.5 million.
The second option keeps the extension and does away with the second level of parking. There are 149 spaces in this plan.
Both of these options are more expensive than the $4 million allotted for the project.
Only the third option comes in on budget. By building a second level and not the extension, the number of spaces is raised to 184.
The federal earmark of $3.2 million was the oldest outstanding transportation earmark in the country, Pontbriand said. It was approved in 1988. Then-Congressman Marty Meehan obtained the earmark for Littleton and it was transferred to Ayer.
Some things will be included no matter which plan is chosen.
Commuters will need to cross Main Street to access the rail platform, as they do now.
The plans call for an improved crossing. It may be raised and some kind of signal installed.
A pedestrian sidewalk will lead to the tracks. Vehicles will be able to enter and exit for drop-off and pick-up around a circle.
How things will look is part of the decision-making process.
Depot Square once held a fountain and presented the best of Ayer to people coming and going on the train, said Alan S. Manoian, director of economic and community development.
If the massive iron fountain, now located in a traffic island near the rotary, returns, it will become a focal point for redeveloping Depot Square, he said. The area could become a place for people to meet.
The building near the tracks that currently houses Advocates and a gym will be torn down this summer.
The building site will likely be used for a bathroom facility because the infrastructure is already in place, Pontbriand said. The state Department of Recreation and Conservation required that a bathroom facility for commuters and rail trail users be part of the improvements. The requirement is part of the deal in signing over the deed to the lot and part of the rail trail to the town.
MART would clean and maintain the bathrooms.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority told the town it would work with the municipality to improve the shelter, Pontbriand said.
Commuters will be charged $3 per day during the week for all-day parking. Ten percent of the spaces will be free parking for rail trail users.
The commuter parking is just one step on improving downtown Ayer, Pontbriand said.
The town will be looking to improve the Park and Main streets intersection where traffic frequently backs up. Ayer does not have even one red, yellow and green traffic light.
With more commuter parking available, parking on side streets may be restricted. A parking study will be complete in March.
Residents are invited to provide input for the design. A workshop will be held with town and MART officials and Weston & Sampson, the design consultants, on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Great Hall in Town Hall.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.