By SIMÓN RIOS
September 18, 2014 12:00 AM
BOSTON — Advocates for South Coast Rail took their game to the big city Wednesday, a Boston launch for a coalition formed to maintain momentum on the long-debated project.
Standing below the displays of incoming and outgoing trains at South Station, the mayors of New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton stumped for South Coast Rail.
“Equity is a big part of this; we want our due in Southeastern Massachusetts,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. But that line of thinking alone isn’t going to carry the day, he said, arguing that the significance of South Coast Rail must be explained to other parts of the state.
Consisting of some 20 business groups, the private sector Rail to Boston Coalition formed earlier this year to advocate for the extension of commuter rail into SouthCoast. The group is co-chaired by Paul Chasse, CEO of the Greater New Bedford Association of Realtors, and Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The rail project is on the fast track, and rail to Boston is going to happen,” said an optimistic Chasse. “Yes, commuter rail is a work in progress, but it has come so far”» that there is no turning back.”
Nascimento said the region’s 31 communities are home to 740,000 people and growing, a pool of prospective employees for Boston companies.
New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton “are the only three cities within 50 miles of Boston that do not have a commuter rail link,” said Rep. Bill Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who co-chairs the Legislature’s joint Transportation Committee.
That’s one of the key points the newfound coalition is striking on. Members also point to economic stimulus and the creation of direct and indirect jobs from a project expected to cost $2.2 billion.
Funding for South Coast Rail was set aside this year by the Legislature, and some money has already been spent, including a $210 million “design and build” contract awarded by the Department of Transportation in June. But to finish the project, a rail-friendly administration will have to allocate the money.
Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan said he has spoken with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley and the project has her full support. Flanagan said he hadn’t spoken with Republican candidate Charlie Baker, but his running mate Karyn Polito expressed “open-mindedness.”
“I’m hoping (Baker) has the same open-mindedness on the project as his running mate,” Flanagan said.
“This is a project that just does not benefit Southeastern Massachusetts,” Flanagan said in earlier remarks. “This is a project that will have great benefit to the entire commonwealth.”
Mitchell said some candidates have been more emphatic than others, but none has “offered even a hint of opposition to the project.”
Asked for comment, the Baker campaign issued a statement: “Charlie is committed to making South Coast Rail a reality and delivering efficient, convenient mass transit is only the start of his commitment to the SouthCoast,” the statement said.
The Coakley campaign also issued a statement to The Standard-Times, saying Coakley is fully committed to building on Gov. Deval Patrick’s leadership on South Coast Rail.
“It is no surprise that a bipartisan group of business leaders has come together to support a project that will spur economic development and better connect the residents and businesses on the SouthCoast with other economic hubs,” Coakley’s statement said.
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By SIMÓN RIOS