Environmental Secretary Narrows Rail Options to Three

By Brian Boyd

State environmental officials further narrowed the possible routes for bringing commuter rail to New Bedford, whittling down the list from five options to three.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles issued a decision Friday that takes off the table two options using the Lakeville/Middleboro station.
The Executive Office of Transportation will study the remaining alternatives — rail through Attleboro, rail through Stoughton and rapid bus service — and announce a preliminary decision around Labor Day. The project could cost $1.4 billion.
“I am excited that we reached a decision point, because it’s another milestone in the progress of the project,” said Kristina Egan, the state’s manager of the South Coast Rail project. “We’re getting very close to making an on-the-ground decision.”
Mayor Scott W. Lang said he does not believe the bus option would satisfy the area’s needs, but he would go along with any route that includes rail.
“If we’re talking about options with rail, the simple position is no matter what the route is, we will support it,” Lang said.
He added he would like the southern portion from New Bedford and Fall River to Taunton built sooner rather than later, to help start making the extension a reality.
Bowles consulted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before deciding what alternatives merit further consideration. Transportation officials also will study the option of not building commuter rail, along with the remaining options, according to the Executive Office of Transportation.
One alternative eliminated by Bowles would send all passengers through Middleboro. He rejected the “full” version of this, which included a proposed tunnel in Quincy, as impractical. He also dropped a less-intensive version because “the ridership projections are significantly lower than other alternatives,” according to his decision.
Bowles cut a second alternative, which would have sent half of the trains through Middleboro and half through Attleboro, saying it also is impractical.
A yearlong ridership study released in February showed the Middleboro versions would draw fewer riders than the other rail options. The Stoughton alternative using electric-powered rail cars led the other options in ridership, with a projection of 6,300 round-trip passengers daily.
The Stoughton route had been chosen in a past study as the best route. It raises environmental issues, though, because it would run through the 6,000-acre Hockomock Swamp.
The final three options are:
* Rail through Attleboro, providing service from Fall River and New Bedford to South Station in Boston, via a new bypass track through Norton and Attleboro. Both electric and diesel rail will be considered as part of this option.
* Rail through Stoughton to South Station. Both electric and diesel rail will be weighed as part of this alternative.
* Rapid bus service from Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton to Boston, using a proposed dedicated bus lane along Route 24 and Interstate 93.
The route decision will become definitive when the final environmental document is completed, which is expected by spring 2010.
“We are on schedule to restore transit service to Fall River and New Bedford at a crucial time for the economy of the region and the commonwealth,” said Transportation Secretary James Aloisi in a statement Monday.
The officials studying the rail options can benefit from the narrower focus, Egan said.
“It’s a big decision for us because we’re able to use resources with more efficiency,” she said. “We can just look at those three options in depth.”
The survey teams researching the potential impact on wetlands and wildlife will have to cover a smaller geographic area, thanks to the narrowing of options, she said.
April 07, 2009 6:00 AM
Source URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090407/NEWS/904070335/-1/NEWS06

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