It’s time. The people of Southeastern Massachusetts have waited far too long for convenient rail service to Boston. Rail service is critical to enhancing two-way commerce and tourism, addressing a portion of the state’s housing shortage and improving the quality of life for residents from the South Coast to Boston.
We are pleased that the Baker administration is working to provide full funding of Phase I of the South Coast Rail Project in the next Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), due later in March. This will keep the project moving forward toward its target completion date in 2022.
Indeed, much of the groundwork has already been laid, with all early actions completed within the allocated budget:
• Eleven of 12 necessary municipal permits have been obtained;
• Section 401 Water Quality Certification (DEP) for the State-of-Good-Repair culvert and bridge projects has been received;
• Chapter 91 License (required for Weaver’s Cove) has been received;
• MESA Conservation Management Permit has been issued;
• Section 404 Permit (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) for State-of-Good-Repair has been received;
• The contract for long-lead track work has been awarded;
• Contract requests for four bridges (the last bridges requiring upgrading or replacement along the New Bedford Main Line) have been advertised, with a bid opening date of March 26;
• The land acquisition process is well underway;
• The procurement process to secure a new Project Management/Construction Management team to oversee the project is underway, and a staffing plan is being developed;
With municipal permits in place, certifications awarded, and contracts waiting to be signed, the South Coast Rail project has never been this close to becoming a reality.
Completing Phase I is the next step, and can begin as soon as funding is awarded. It involves work along the Middleboro and Fall River secondary lines and the New Bedford main line, including: rehabilitation or replacement of 46 culverts, work at the Tarkiln Hill Road grade crossing in New Bedford, and wetland impact mitigation at six locations. Upon receiving funding of this phase, Mass DOT will be able to finalize staffing and begin construction promptly.
Phase I requires a significantly smaller investment than Phase II, and resources are available and can be tapped from funds already existing in the State Rail Enhancement Program and the state bond capital program. Essentially, there is no justifiable reason to withhold funding in whole or part at this juncture.
Considering the great strides made to date, the availability of funds, and the many new opportunities rail service will provide for business, education, employment, tourism, and entertainment, full funding of Phase I of the South Coast Rail Project makes great sense. While we are grateful to the Baker administration for its work on the project thus far, we can finally make commuter rail a reality with full funding of Phase I.
Paul Chasse and Tim Cole are co-chairs of the Rail to Boston Coalition.