South Coast Rail optimism grows
STATE TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS still need to work out how to pay for South Coast Rail and who should be in charge of the first phase of its construction, but on Monday they sounded as if the long-delayed project was a go.
James Eng, the deputy rail administrator for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, sought and won approval from state transportation officials to spend $28.5 million to complete the final design of the nearly $1 billion project to launch commuter rail service from South Station to New Bedford and Fall River via Middleborough. The second phase, costing about $3.2 billion, would run electrified rail service to New Bedford and Fall River via Taunton. The state, not the MBTA, is expected to pay for the rail project.
Eng ticked off a list of construction projects, listed which agency would be in charge of which jobs, and said he was prepared to use eminent domain to take property needed for the rail line. He also said he has found a way to get the ride down to less than 90 minutes.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said it’s not quite time for a groundbreaking, but she said a celebratory kickoff to the project is not far off. Officials say the new commuter rail line, a campaign promise of Gov. Charlie Baker, should be up and running by late 2022.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re really excited to put the pedal down on this project,” said Pollack.
“This is a milestone moment,” said Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, a member of the MassDOT board.
Despite the optimism, a number of transportation officials raised concerns about the complexity of the project and the many agencies and contractors that would have to work together to pull it off. Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, called for the hiring of a consultant who could help state officials referee disputes. He also said one state official needs to be put in charge of the project, a lesson learned from the Green Line extension project. (A correction was made to an earlier version of this story to make clear that Aiello is the chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board.)