AYER — The Board of Selectmen has tapped two sites to increase downtown commuter parking, and the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) is looking to make that concept a reality.
The plan calls for 350 parking spaces at the Rail Trail site and on Central Avenue next to the post office.
While the decision was favored at a recent parking charette and supported at Town Meeting, detractors said MART would never accept a solution that needs more than one location.
Having met with local officials to discuss that scenario, MART administrator Mohammed Kahn said otherwise in a telephone interview on May 18.
“MART is very happy with the choice the Board of Selectmen has given us to work with,” he said.
MART is an appellate organization to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It oversees commuter-rail services on the Fitchburg line west of Littleton.
While Ayer has the second highest ridership on the line west of Acton, Kahn has told local officials on several occasions that more parking is needed to ensure the station’s long-term retention. The town has a $3.1 million federal grant and another $2 million available from the state for parking, but the selectmen producing a suitable location has been the key hurdle over the past year, said Kahn.
Now that the selectmen have given direction on where they want the parking, MART is preparing to evaluate the site and report back to the town.
“We will be doing an in-depth analysis of whatever we have in the next three to four months,” he said. “We will present that to selectmen and go from there.”
Specifically, MART will work to transfer the grants into the appropriate accounts. Those resources will bring professionals onboard to ensure the job can be done by the rules, said Kahn.
“We will work with the selectmen’s choice, and we will try to make that happen,” he said. “In the process of doing this, if there are some problems the state, federal government or town brings in, we’ll have to face that and deal with that.”
Town Planning and Development Director Christopher Ryan is one of the local officials who met with Kahn. He confirmed Kahn’s account and said the transfer of funds is estimated to take two or three months, but it could happen quicker. Overall, he said the meeting went well.
“It was a very fruitful, very positive meeting, and I think it provides a lot of hope for future progress,” he said.
Others in the community are less certain. Mark McNulty is the chairman of a citizen’s group that lobbied unsuccessfully for the selectmen to look at sites for the station outside of downtown Ayer. While he conceded MART is expressing support for the current course of action, he said the MBTA Web site still lists the consolidation of the Ayer and Shirley rail stations into a “Devens” stop as a measure to reduce commute times from Fitchburg to Porter Square.
Investigating sites on West Main Street would have been a proactive approach to that possibility and provided a fallback if the downtown solution is rejected, he said.
“If I had to bet on it, I’ll bet it doesn’t stand,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a regional station somewhere and Depot Square become a flag stop. I think what could potentially happen is they go through all this investigative footwork and they’ll have high-level Congressman step in and say, ‘This doesn’t make sense for us,’ and we’ll have the station out by the main gate (of Devens).”