Thursday, April 01, 2010

Worcester, Mass., committees seek changes to CSX yard expansion plans

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A joint Worcester, Mass., City Council committee has asked CSX Corp. officials if they can modify plans to double the size of their freight terminal to address increased truck traffic concerns on lower Grafton Street and the planned closing of Putnam Lane, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports.

With as many as 500 trucks a day expected to use the proposed new entrance/exit to the CSX freight terminal on Grafton Street, members of the council's Public Works and Public Service and Transportation committees said an upgrade to Grafton Street is needed.

In particular, it was suggested that a third traffic lane be built, from the proposed new entrance/exit of the CSX freight yard to the Interstate 290 eastbound on-ramp. By having a separate lane for trucks, committee members said it would prevent traffic back-ups on Grafton Street as tractor-trailers enter and exit the freight terminal.

While CSX officials said they are now working with state highway officials to address traffic concerns on Grafton Street, they pointed out that the freight terminal will actually generate less traffic than when Shaw's had a supermarket at that location.

The joint committee also asked for another alternative to the planned closing of Putnam Lane, which is the only connection between Franklin and Shrewsbury streets, from Washington Square to Piccadilly Plaza on Shrewsbury Street. CSX officials said the closing of Putnam Lane is necessary to facilitate the expansion of its freight terminal.

In response to neighborhood concerns about closing Putnam Lane, CSX last week unveiled six alternatives designed to retain a connection between Franklin and Shrewsbury streets. But District 3 Councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr., co-chairman of the joint committee, said each one has significant drawbacks and asked whether any other connections could be developed.

"I don't see a lot of doable options," Clancy said in reference to the six alternatives. "(Putnam Lane) is an important connection for many people who live in that area. I'm not sure this can be resolved, but we should see if there might be any other options."

Clancy also raised questions about whether CSX could also use Franklin Street as an entrance/exit to its freight terminal. He said that would reduce the number of tractor-trailers having to use Grafton Street. He suggested a signalized intersection could be created at Franklin Street, so trucks on the south side of the CSX freight yard could cross the street and get to the rail lines on the north side of the street.

CSX has proposed building a bridge on Franklin Street so trucks could navigate the entire freight terminal without interfering with local street traffic. CSX officials said having just one entrance/exit is important for the security and efficiency of the freight terminal.

Councilor-at-Large Kathleen M. Toomey and District 4 Councilor Barbara G. Haller, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the planned construction of a maintenance building off Atlanta Street. They pointed out that Atlanta Street is in a residential area and that traffic going to and from that building would negatively impact it.

CSX wants to double the size of its freight yard on Franklin Street from 23 acres to 51 acres and make Worcester its new rail freight hub for New England. The $100-million project is part of a private-public partnership between the state and CSX to reposition its freight operations in Massachusetts so the rail line between Worcester and Boston can be opened to more commuter trains, with a goal of adding 20 more commuter trains by 2012.

Councilor-at-Large Joseph M. Petty, co-chairman of the joint committee, said he and his colleagues want to work closely with CSX to make the expansion plans become a reality.

Maurice O'Connell, vice president of government affairs for CSX, said his company is equally committed to working with the city.

"To spend $100 million on this project and have trucks not moving is not a good business plan for us," O'Connell said.

District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri said he would also like to know what plans CSX might have for additional expansion in future years. He pointed out that CSX originally planned on taking considerably more land along Franklin Street for its freight yard.

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