With the election of a new governor on the horizon, an array of SouthCoast business and economic development groups has formed a coalition aimed at maintaining the momentum to make South Coast Rail a reality.
“We recognize the importance of this project to our region and to the state as a whole, but we also know that there’s a lot of competition for limited transportation dollars,” said Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Rail to Boston Coalition.
“While this project is very popular here in Southeastern Massachusetts, there are other regions of the state “» that would love to have the dollars to focus in on transportation projects in their regions.”
Speaking at a Standard-Times editorial board meeting Tuesday, Nascimento said other regions of the state have similar broad-based coalitions and, without one, SouthCoast was at a disadvantage. That changed six months ago when the ad-hoc coalition was formed.
Already 17 organizations have come aboard, ranging from chambers of commerce to industrial, real estate and economic development groups.
Although its future is far from certain, South Coast Rail has crossed several major milestones, most recently when $2.3 billion was earmarked for the project in a $12.7 billion transportation bond bill signed earlier this year. Now it’s a matter of allocating that money, and the coalition sees the next governor playing an instrumental role.
Reaching out to the gubernatorial candidates, as well as the Legislature, is central to the coalition’s work. The group retained the Boston lobbying firm The Suffolk Group to help with this mission.
Jean Fox, state Department of Transportation project manager for South Coast Rail, said $12 million has already been released for engineering work for South Coast Rail. Millions more has been spent out of other pots to improve existing rail infrastructure in the area, Fox said, which will benefit freight transport as well the prospect of South Coast Rail.
“We have learned that when you get the business community to rally … you sometimes can effect real and lasting change,” she said.
On Sept. 17, right after the primary, the coalition will hold a launch event with Transportation Secretary Richard Davey.
Stephen Smith, executive director of Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, said after 20 years in the business, it’s a godsend to see the formation of this group, which could help make the project a reality.
For the newfound coalition, the benefits of South Coast Rail are clear: as much $500 million in annual economic impact, 3,800 jobs, and $1.8 billion in construction stimulus, not to mention that New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton are the only three major cities in Eastern Massachusetts without commuter rail.
Now it’s the coalition’s job to convince the rest of the state.