Monday, May 28, 2007

Brakes on for Fall River & New Bedford

The two bits of news didn't quite make sense in the first place: Gov. Patrick's announcement that he wants to extend commuter rail to New Bedford and Fall River, and a high-profile report on the billions of dollars it will take just to maintain the existing system.

As noted by AP writer Steve LeBlanc in Saturday's Globe (and several other spots), and in the words of the old standard, "somethin's gotta give," and it might be the commuter rail:

Critics say that, coming off the nearly $14.8 billion Big Dig and faced with a crumbling transportation infrastructure, the last thing the state can afford is a pricey new commuter rail line.

And at the Statehouse, some lawmakers are pushing for a moratorium on all future MBTA rail expansions, including the New Bedford project.

"Rather than promising the people of New Bedford and Fall River that we are going to be spending a billion-four, the priority of the administration should be making sure the bridges and roads we have right now are drivable and useable," said Senate Republican Leader Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield.

Tisei is pushing for the moratorium. He points to a recent report that found Massachusetts will need to come up with $15 to $19 billion in new revenues over the next two decades just to maintain the state's existing roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure.
The other side gets its say, too:
Steve Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, is also upbeat, although he concedes there are still fiscal challenges for the project.

"The argument that we can't afford it, I can understand that, but in some ways it rings a little hollow because they've afforded it everywhere else in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island," he said pointing to other MBTA commuter rail lines. "There is a question of equity."

He also said that steadily increasing traffic on Route 24 may end up forcing the issue. Since 1984, traffic has tripled, he said, and shows few signs of slowing.

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