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Warwick station will provide direct train access to T.F. Green airport

Despite new funding, local residents remain skeptical of project timeline

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Brown students may soon find it easier than ever to travel to and from Providence. When completed, a new train station in Warwick will allow passengers to reach T.F. Green Airport via commuter rail from the Providence Train Station on Gaspee Street, potentially lowering commuter costs and broadening travel options.

According to the Warwick Beacon, trains between Providence and Warwick are expected to be up and running by October 2008, just in time for current first-years to reap the benefits of the new railway. Students will be able to get to T.F. Green via the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Attleboro Line, a commuter rail line that departs regularly from the Providence Train Station.

The new station, which will be situated directly across the street from T.F. Green, will be connected to the airport by a “people-mover,”providing direct access from the station to the airport and vice versa.

The project was proposed over 10 years ago by U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75, who was then serving as Warwick’s mayor. It has been in the works ever since, but city and state officials have struggled to acquire the necessary funds to begin construction. The state received a $25 million federal grant for the project in the mid-90s, though these funds proved to be inadequate. After years of little action and increasing projected costs, some Warwick residents became skeptical that the plan would ever come to fruition.

Finally, this summer, Chafee used his position on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to harness $60 million in federal funds for the station’s development.

A language change in the federal highway bill freed up $40 million for the project. In addition, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 will provide $20 million in discretionary spending. This money comes from government revenues brought in by taxes on gas and vehicles.

Yet Warwick residents remain dubious of the train station initiative. “There have been so many false starts that even additional federal funds have not made believers,” said John Howell, a Warwick resident and publisher of the Warwick Beacon. “The feds want this project as a model of intermodal transportation, but they have hesitant partners.”

Senator Chafee’s office, however, is more optimistic. “We hope to break ground on the station within the next year,” said Stephen Hourahan, Chafee’s Washington press secretary.

Chafee’s initial proposal stemmed from a desire to take advantage of the proximity between the Amtrak rails and T.F. Green, Hourahan said. T.F. Green is the closest airport to the Amtrak line, so the creation of a meeting place for air and rail transportation systems will allow for greater travel flexibility.

Hourahan said Chafee hopes bringing together train and air travel will spur local economic development by attracting travelers from Connecticut and other surrounding areas. The idea is to create a business center at the airport’s doorstep – a task assigned to the Bulfinch Companies, Inc., a Massachusetts-based national real estate investment and development firm hired by the Warwick Station Redevelopment Agency in 2000.

According to the Bulfinch press center, the company has so far been unsuccessful in its efforts to develop the 70-acre area directly across the street from T.F. Green Airport, which was prematurely designated by the City Council as the Station District.

The anticipated benefits of the new station are manifold, according to Hourahan. In addition to sparking local economic development, the station is expected to encourage increased use of public transportation, which will result in reduced highway congestion and diminished environmental damage. It could also affect employment rates by providing increased access to jobs in Boston and Providence for area residents.

Lieutenant Mark Bradreth of the Warwick Police Department said the station will undoubtedly be “very beneficial for the city of Warwick. … If it ever happens.”

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