LOWELL, Mass. – New Hampshire-to-Boston commuters who board commuter rail in Lowell are facing some unpleasant news: Almost two-thirds of the parking garage at the train station will be closed for at least a year.
“There will be an impact. I won’t deny that, but we’re trying to minimize that,” said James Scanlan, administrator of the Lowell Regional Transit Authority.
The $7 million construction project will rebuild one of the parking garages and has been in the works for several years, but some commuters only learned of it Monday when Scanlan distributed an announcement.
“A problem? Big-time,” said Scott Beausoleil, a Nashua native who graduated from Bishop Guertin in 1980 and has commuted into Boston for much of the last 22 years by boarding the MBTA Commuter Rail line at Lowell.
“You don’t so much mind it in the spring to late fall – but boy, come winter, you can understand what traffic can be like, especially if the weather’s bad,” said Beausoleil, who is a case administrator in the bankruptcy field.
The problem is that a 30-year-old, four-story parking garage known as Gallagher I is crumbling to the point that it can’t be repaired any more, Scanlan said.
“We’ve been putting money into it, federal and state money, for at least the last 7 or 8 years … probably $1 million, for concrete repairs,” he said. “But the amount of deterioration that has occurred in the concrete, from water, salt … the (federal government) came in and said they were reluctant to fund it any more. They did a review of the structure with us and said we should be doing a more comprehensive overhaul of the garage.”
All the concrete in the garage will be removed and replaced, meaning Gallagher I has to shut for about a year, starting around April 1, so the concrete can be removed and replaced. The $7 million project will be paid for with $2.5 million in federal transportation money with the rest coming from Massachusetts state funds.
Compounding the difficulty for commuters is that a two-story addition, known as Gallagher II, can only be reached by driving through Gallagher I – therefore Gallagher II also will have to be shut for the duration of the work.
The adjoining Rourke Garage will remain open because it has a separate entrance.
The result, said Scanlan, is that about 550 of 950 parking spaces at what is officially called the Gallagher Intermodal Center will be unavailable for a year.
The three garages are rarely full to the brim, Scanlan said – peak usage usually tops out around 780 vehicles – but they’re popular with commuters from the New Hampshire side of the state border. On average, about 20 percent of the vehicles in the garage, between 120 and 150 vehicles, have New Hampshire license plates, Scanlan said.
Scanlan said the Lowell transit authority is negotiating with several nearby commercial sites, including the YMCA, to lease some parking spaces for the duration of the project.
They also may use some 80 spaces at the system’s maintenance facility. Another option is the Early Garage, owned by the city, although it’s far enough away from the Gallagher Center that a shuttle bus would become necessary.
Details will be announced as they’re worked out, Scanlan said.
As for Beausoleil, he said the situation supports something that he has been saying for years: Commuter rail should extend to Nashua. Then local residents wouldn’t have to worry about what Lowell does.