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Dukakis urges rail for area

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Dukakis urges rail for area

Blasts priorities set by Romney administration

By JACK SPILLANE, Standard-Times staff writer

Former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, whose administration planned the widespread expansion of mass transit in Massachusetts over the past 30 years, says the New Bedford-Fall River commuter rail line should be the state's highest transportation priority.

In a lengthy interview with The Standard-Times, the three-term governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee says the Romney administration should substitute the $667 million local commuter rail line for the $780 million Silver Line tunnel as the state's highest priority in the federal "New Starts" program.

A New Bedford-Fall River New Start application, if successful, would cut the cost of the project in half because the federal government pays for 50 percent of the cost of approved projects in the federal program.

Mr. Dukakis called for a statewide transportation policy that prioritizes commuter rail to the older industrial cities surrounding Boston and the eventual construction of the rail link between Boston's North and South stations.

That policy will better serve statewide economic and housing needs, and better relieve transit system gridlock in downtown Boston, than the Romney administration's focus on the downtown Silver Line tunnel and the construction of an urban rail ring around the city, he contended.

"In my judgment, spending $4 billion on a bus tunnel under Boston, and this so-called urban ring, is of marginal value at best," he said. "We don't need it. It's these older urban, industrial communities that surround us that would be enormously helped by the kind of alternative I'm talking about."

Long a proponent of rail and mass transit service over bus and car travel, Mr. Dukakis is an outgoing member of the board of governors of Amtrak (the national passenger rail service) and a public policy instructor at Northeastern University and UCLA.

He cited the unfairness of New Bedford and Fall River being the only cities in eastern Massachusetts not connected to Boston by public transportation.

And he said that other older cities that surround Boston -- such as Worcester, Fitchburg and Lawrence -- suffer from infrequent rail service, having the capacity for few train trips and virtually no trains during the middle of the day.

The state economy and housing crunch would be revitalized if the rail service to the cities ringing Boston were upgraded, he contended.

People in and around Boston have been priced out of the housing market and will move to more affordable cities if good mass transit is available, he said.

"Take a look at what's happened to Brockton since they got commuter rail. Brockton was in terrible shape. Today it's coming back strong," he said.

Mr. Dukakis two weeks ago met with a group of urban state senators concerned about what they believe is an ill-advised decision by the Romney administration to emphasize Greater Boston bus and rail expansion over commuter rail to the industrial cities.

State Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, organized the meeting that included legislators from the North End and South Boston, among others .

In addition, he, along with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester and other congressional staff members, have recently met with Douglas Foy, Gov. Romney's chief of commonwealth development, about the issue.

The local legislators have been unable to convince the administration to prioritize the commuter lines, he said, and will have to fight a legislative and public relations war.

"Nobody in that place understood why we were serious about the Silver Line tunnel," Mr. Dukakis said.

"People say 'well, it will give you a one-stop ride to the airport from Roxbury.' Well, I'm here at Northeastern, and if I want to go to the airport, I get on the Orange Line outside my front door, I change at State (station), I take the Blue Line, I go to the Airport Station, I go to my terminal. It takes thirty minutes," he said.

Mr. Dukakis said he not only disagrees with the administration on the Silver Line and Urban Ring, but that he also objects to its prioritizing highway expansion, including the recently announced $35 million flyover over the Cape Cod rotary; the $160 million expansion of the southern portion of Route 128; the $180 million expansion of Route 3 on the South Shore; and the yet-to-be-determined cost of expanding Route 24.

Long range, Mr. Dukakis said, the state should limit itself to a $100 million bus upgrade for the urban ring and jettison the $3 billion to $4 billion train phase of the urban ring in favor of the North-South rail link.

He disputes the administration's estimate of a $7 billion price tag for the rail link, asserting that in current dollars the real cost is closer to the $4 billion cost of the urban ring's train phase.

"That's in 2012 dollars. If you applied the same numbers to the urban ring, they'd be up there at around 6 or 7 billion," he said.

The link between the North and South stations would relieve train delays that result from trains sitting on the tracks and blocking others from traveling through, he said. That's because North and South stations are end points in the system instead of stopping points.

"This is crazy, stopping trains and turning them around," he said. "Can you imagine? You ought to be able to go from New Bedford to Newburyport in one trip," he said.

The rail link would allow trains to travel through, it would relieve that gridlock and also allow easy travel between the older urban communities and job belts that surround the city, he said.

Mr. Dukakis said he is not advocating for the immediate construction of the rail link, but rather for its substitution for the urban ring.

The immediate priority, however, should be commuter rail instead of the Silver Line tunnel, he said.

"I feel very strongly about these older urban communities. And I spent an enormous amount of time as governor trying to help them," he said. "I think the single most important thing we can do for them is to connect them to the capital with a first-class rail system. And so that's what I'm going to be spending a lot of my time on."

According to Mr. Dukakis, public transportation in Boston, as a result of the mass transit investments made during his administration, is already the best in nation.

But the recently completed portion of the Silver Line connecting Logan Airport to the downtown is enough without building the tunnel, he said.

"To think that for the cost of this one-half mile bus tunnel you could pay for both the New Bedford-Fall River line and the upgrade of the entire commuter system!" he said.

Urban ring improvements needed to relieve congestion at downtown Boston's Park Street station could be accomplished by a $100 million bus upgrade and jettisoning the $4 billion urban ring rail line, he said.

"The question is where your priorities are," he said. "Some $20 billion has been put into Greater Boston and the city is thriving. That's not what's going on in the older cities of eastern Massachusetts."

Mr. Dukakis also charges that the Romney administration is proceeding with Silver Line and Urban Ring plans for which there is little public demand from the communities they are designed to serve.

Even though legislative leaders from South Boston and Roxbury aren't interested in the plans, state transportation leaders are wedded to them in the same way that 1970s planners were wedded to plans to build a southwest highway corridor through Boston's ethnic neighborhoods and "Emerald Necklace" parks, he said.

"I was one of the leaders in the fight to kill any further highway construction inside 128 and to take that money and put it into transit in the '60s and '70s. It was a 10-year fight, but we won it," he said.

"And that's the reason you've got the best public transportation system in the country, because we were able, with the help of the congressional delegation -- Tip was terrific, Teddy and so forth -- we became the first state in the country, in the '70s, to be able to use highway trust fund money for mass transit."

The legislators representing eastern Massachusetts cities are in for a fight, but they can win it if they persist, he argued.

"What you do in the political world is kind of have a debate. As I said to the folks I met with, the senators and their staffs the other days, you know, this is kind of where we were in the Sixties. When they wanted to pave over the city of Boston and ram the inner belt through the Olmstead Emerald Necklace and a lot of other stuff which today sounds insane. But which was the planning orthodoxy of the time.

"The highways going everywhere. Everybody said we couldn't do it but we went out there and killed them. And then fortunately we were able to take all this money and pour it into public transportation," he said.

From The Standard-Times (New Bedford)

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Dukakis calls on legislators to save rail link plan

By Statehouse News Service  |  May 18, 2005

Former governor Michael S. Dukakis pleaded with lawmakers yesterday to preserve the possibility of an underground link between North and South stations in Boston, but a key state senator said the project would halt downtown development and hurt suburban transportation upgrades.

At a hearing on legislation preserving the 1-mile right of way, Dukakis warned lawmakers that the two transportation hubs are nearing capacity and that action is needed to prevent development that may make the project, which would create a seamless Northeast Corridor rail line, impossible in the future.

Dukakis warned that increased commuter rail use, combined with expansion projects, will soon lead to ''massive capacity problems" at North and South stations. He told lawmakers the condition of the state's transportation infrastructure is ''frightening."

...

Two weeks ago, Baddour said the project would not be possible without federal funding. But yesterday's hearing coincided with news that Massachusetts would receive a 28 percent funding increase, or $1.17 billion more than it now receives, under a multiyear $295 billion transportation bill passed last night in the US Senate.

...

Two weeks ago, Governor Mitt Romney, who did not include the rail link in his long-term transportation plan, said it would aid travelers from Maine to Washington, D.C., but is not something that ''makes sense for Massachusetts."

Continue reading at: Boston.com

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I agree with Dukakis on most everything in this article. I personally believe the Urban Ring will be a waste and that the money should be put into helping the older industrial cities like Worcester and Fitchburg. The Red-Blue Line link and commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford are musts.

I disagree with his points on road construction though, we need upgrades to the rotary and Rt. 24, as well as many other roads. Maintaining a balance between the construction of mass transit and roads is important.

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