BILLERICA -- With the MBTA parking lot already packed by 8:30 a.m., some commuters are dreading the worst when Lowell commuters are forced to find new parking spots starting April 1 because of the major Gallagher Terminal reconstruction project.

Marie Smith, who has taken the commuter rail from the North Billerica stop for eight years, is so worried about Lowellians taking over that she sees herself getting forced down to the Woburn parking lot.

"That would be a big inconvenience for me," said Smith, 53, who has lived in Billerica for 23 years. "Forty minutes away instead of a quick three-mile drive each morning.

The driver of a Jeep found a unique place to park in the North Billerica MBTA station.SUN/David H. BrowSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our
The driver of a Jeep found a unique place to park in the North Billerica MBTA station. SUN/David H. Brow

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.

"There's a lot of people concerned about this," she added. "And even when the construction is over, are they always going to park here because it's cheaper to park here and the T pass is cheaper?"

However, Lowell Regional Transit Authority Administrator Jim Scanlan emphasized last week that the approximately 775 commuters who use the Gallagher I and Gallagher II parking lots should be accommodated on April 1 in the Rourke Garage or in abutting properties.

The Rourke Garage, with access from Westford Street, has about 400 spaces for commuters, Scanlan said. Half of those will be reserved for commuters with monthly parking passes.


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In addition, the LRTA recently reached agreements with M/A-COM Technology Solutions, Comfort Bedding and Furniture, and other nearby sites to accommodate most of the remaining commuters.

"If there's a concern in North Billerica about not getting parking spots, they should feel comfortable that we don't see Lowell commuters heading down there," Scanlan said. "There may be some apprehension, but I ask them to see how this works out after April 1.

With the parking lot at the North Billerica MBTA station already filled to capacity most days, commuters there are worried that Lowell rail riders will
With the parking lot at the North Billerica MBTA station already filled to capacity most days, commuters there are worried that Lowell rail riders will take their precious spots once the city's Gallagher Terminal garage closes for repairs next week. SUN/David H. Brow

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.

"We've done a lot of hard work and have had great cooperation from all the abutters to get these commuters accomodated," he added.

On April 1, the reconstruction project, expected to last a year, will begin. The middle of the terminal's three parking garages, known as Gallagher I, will be gutted to the steel skeleton, with new concrete decking installed, as well as a new fire-alarm system and drainage and more efficient lighting.

The adjacent garage, known as Gallagher II, will not be rebuilt but will be out of service because the only vehicular access is through Gallagher I.

The $8.7 million project was unavoidable, LRTA officials have said. The authority has spent between $700,000 and $800,000 on repairs in recent years, but the condition was only worsening. A few years ago, a chunk of concrete fell from a ceiling.

While Scanlan assures Billerica commuters that there will be minimal impact on April 1, Billerica's Al Ramos argues, along with Smith, that Billerica residents should get preference for parking on the 20,000-square-foot, town-owned parcel.

"If the 50 to 60 spots are town-owned and we pay taxes in town, we should get some type of preference there," said Ramos, who lives in North Billerica and is a former LRTA board member for the town. "It's already so filled in the morning, and it's going to be brutal for residents when April comes. This can help them out a bit."

But Scanlan said it's an MBTA open lot for anybody who takes the train to Boston. There has never been any preference given to Billerica residents, he said.

"With all due respect to people in Billerica, the lot's for everybody," Scanlan said. "And again, with the Rourke Garage and all these abutting properties, Lowell commuters won't have to go down there."

With snow hammering the region all winter, Smith said she hopes next year that the LRTA makes snow removal a priority. She said it has taken away many parking spots and has squeezed out residents from the lot. One of her commuting friends had to turn around, park at home and walk a mile to the station last month because of the limited spots available.

Scanlan said the LRTA was "caught with the weather" this year, with major storm after major storm. 

"Moving snow off-site is very, very expensive," he said. "We did it once, and it was a substantial amount of money. That's not the reason we didn't do it this year, but we couldn't keep up with all the storms."

Scanlan added that he hasn't received any complaints about snow taking up too many spots.

Meanwhile, Ramos has filed an article for Town Meeting in May that would allow Billerica residents to park for free on weekends and federal holidays in the town-owned parcel.

"Why not give families going to Boston a break?" Ramos said. "It encourages people to use public transportation, saves people money, increases the train capacity, reduces traffic, reduces energy consumption. I don't see the downside. If a resident or family wishes to take the train to Boston, they should be able to do so without paying the $4 parking fee."

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter and Tout @rsobeyLSun.