Feds award RI $13.1M for Pawtucket/Central Falls train station

A rendering of the proposed Pawtucket/Central Falls train station. (credit: RIDOT)

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The state of Rhode Island will receive $13.1 million in federal funds to put toward building a new train station to serve Pawtucket and Central Falls, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed announced Wednesday.

The award is a bit less than the $14.5 million that the R.I. Department of Transportation had requested for the project from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, a competitive grant process that Rhode Island has tapped a number of times since its creation in the 2009 stimulus law.

Rhode Island faced strong competition for the funds: 585 applications requesting more than $9.3 billion were submitted for this year’s round of TIGER grants, with only $500 million available, according to Reed’s office.

Reed called the funding “great news” for Rhode Island and the Blackstone Valley region. “The state must now work to develop a coherent service plan that will support the new station and promote commuter rail ridership throughout the state,” he said in a statement.

The new station would be built between Dexter and Conant streets at a total estimated cost of $40 million. The state’s application said the rest of the money would come largely from other federal funding, along with $3.6 million from the state and $3 million from the two cities. RIDOT said the station could open by early 2020.

Adding a Pawtucket/Central Falls stop on the MBTA commuter-rail line between Boston and Wickford Junction would fulfill a longstanding goal of local political leaders and transit advocates, who argue the new station would be a catalyst for real-estate development in the surrounding area and provide other economic benefits.

“The Pawtucket and Central Falls teams have been aggressive and focused on this long overdue project, which will be a game changer that will revitalize our communities,” Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien said.

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa declared that the decision means local leaders are “one step closer to bringing unprecedented economic development and employment opportunities to this area.”

Skeptics have questioned the value of the station, however, noting that projections show net new ridership would be only 89 riders per day as most passengers switch from the South Attleboro and Providence stops.

“I think what you have to have is frequency of service and that will make the readership more attractive, and then it’s a virtuous circle if it works, and the more riders, the more frequency of service,” Reed said in a phone interview.

“It’s already on a line with two very well-used stations, and this would be an alternative, and one I think that will be used by a lot of people, particularly if the parking is more convenient,” he said. “So I think this is going to be something that adds value – and by the way, if we start adding value to the system there, it will be another reason why you increase service and increase the reliability of service.”

Reed, who serves on the money-allocating Senate Appropriations Committee, is a vocal supporter of the TIGER program. His office said he has helped steer about $88 million in TIGER funds to Rhode Island in recent years, notably $22.3 million for the Quonset Business Park and $13 million for Providence’s transit system.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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