A new commuter rail station could be the key to a more vibrant Pawtucket. But the project plan involves moving the city’s bus hub from its current downtown location, which has raised some concerns for residents. That’s what we heard through The Bubbler, our people-powered journalism initiative.
Pawtucket’s downtown transit center on Roosevelt Avenue is heavy with traffic even in the late morning hours during the week. Some passengers gather inside the lobby of the Visitors Center building, while others wait for their buses under the pavilion across the street.
Riders appreciate the indoor waiting area at the bus hub: It provides shelter, access to restrooms, and plenty of seating. But the city will soon be closing the hub completely. These riders, who frequently rely on RIPTA to get around, will see the building transformed into an office or storefront. They’ll have to catch their buses at the site of the new commuter rail station, which is in a different part of the city—a much much more remote, sparsely populated area.
Although Pawtucket city officials have been working in collaboration with the Rhode Island Transit Riders Alliance and the Department of Transportation on the plans for the new hub, longtime Alliance member Ed Benson worried that it won’t provide the same amenities for RIPTA passengers as the current one.
“I must say, they have a nice facility planned. Again, no shelter that I could see from the dark and the cold," Benson said. "And a key element in this is that train passengers are also going to need shelter. I am not aware of any plans to provide that.”
The construction of this transit center is part of a larger effort to turn Pawtucket into a livelier, more commuter-friendly city. Pawtucket city officials aren’t the only Rhode Islanders who believe strongly in transit as a social, economic, and cultural investment. Providence advocates are also pushing for the development of new train stations across the state. Their vision is a comprehensive railway system that could even boost worker mobility.
“The idea is that we will have people move there, provide some retail and entertainment services around there, and really capitalize on that transit investment,” said Sue Mara, Pawtucket’s Director of Planning.
The amount of vacant mills in the area played a big role in the city’s choice of location for the train station, Mara added. She said riders’ safety and comfort is a priority, and she believes that once business development near the train station gets underway, the bus hub will be just as appealing to riders as the old one.
“We’ve been working really closely with our police department, understanding that while the district sort of gets going and gears up, and while we build more people into the area, which in the future will make the area much safer," Mara said. "In the design of the bus station and the bus hub, we’re talking about making sure that we have proper lighting and cameras.”
Waiting in the Visitors Center lobby is young Pawtucket resident Yamil Cambero. He said he’s happy with the revitalization efforts his city is making, and sees great opportunity in the new train station-bus hub combination.
“We’d be able to open pretty much a new culture in Pawtucket. I’ve traveled around the world, and from what I’ve seen, the more places you have - the more bus stations and train stations close by, a lot of transportation areas - the more people have to interact with each other, the more chances there are for small businesses to open up and benefit off of that,” Cambero said.
Bus service at the new hub will begin late next year. The train station is currently scheduled to open for full operation in 2022. There's even talk of a high-speed line to T.F. Green Airport.