By David Kibbe
Standard-Times Staff Writer
Trains would be rolling to Fall River and New Bedford by December 2016 — nearly a decade from now — under a commuter rail plan Gov. Deval Patrick will announce at UMass Dartmouth today, according to sources familiar with a private briefing by the state’s transportation secretary.
Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen also gave SouthCoast lawmakers a new price tag on the proposed extension of the MBTA’s Stoughton Line, which originates at South Station in Boston: a whopping $1.4 billion. Previous estimates on the cost of extending rail to SouthCoast were $800 million to $1 billion.
The key to bringing the train to New Bedford and Fall River will be finding a source of money for the project, something Gov. Patrick may elaborate on when he gives a presentation to local leaders at 10 a.m. today at UMass Dartmouth’s Woodland Commons Building.
Mr. Cohen did not commit to a funding source in his private, hour-long meeting with SouthCoast legislators in the governor’s office late yesterday afternoon. The governor spoke to the group briefly.
His time line to finish the rail project is half that of former Gov. Mitt Romney, who had projected 20 years.
Legislators were tight-lipped as they left the meeting, but they were smiling. They uniformly called the meeting positive. Transportation officials said no official announcement would be made until today.
“It’s an aggressive plan,” said Rep. Stephen R. Canessa, D-New Bedford. “I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say at UMass Dartmouth. I think the people of the SouthCoast will be pleased with what the governor has to say.”
According to sources familiar with the plan, the administration would get a project manager in place quickly to get design and permitting moving. The administration expects to bond up to $17 million in the next few years for preliminary work on the rail line.
The administration also pledged to forge ahead on negotiations with CSX Corp., which owns much of the existing rail line to the SouthCoast.
The governor’s plan would expand capacity at South Station, including the relocation of a main Post Office facility. New Bedford-Fall River rail would be responsible for $31 million of the station expansion, only part of the overall cost of making South Station larger.
Mr. Cohen told legislators a federal permit would be needed from the Army Corps of Engineers to extend the line through the environmentally sensitive Hockomock Swamp. Local officials had been led to believe in the past that a federal permit would not be needed.
“I believe what we have for the first time is an honest governor and an honest administration, who will tell us realistic projections on the time line and environmental permitting,” said Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, who has fought for bonding and law changes to make the rail project possible during 16 years in the Senate.
Sen. Montigny said he had faith that Gov. Patrick would deliver, but much work was needed to see the project through to completion.
“I believe the secretary and the governor are fully committed to working together with us to get it done,” Sen. Montigny said. “That’s the most you can ask for in a project of this scope.”
Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, agreed that the governor was “fully committed to building it, but there are a lot of what ifs,” particularly with a funding source.
Gov. Patrick will appear at UMass Dartmouth today with Mr. Cohen, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, a big proponent of regional rail, and other members of his development cabinet. His presentation comes a week after the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission released a report saying the state had a deficit of up to $19 billion just to maintain its existing roads, bridges, rail and public transportation networks. The MBTA alone has a $2.7 billion backlog in projects, not including expansion.
Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, is getting interest in his bill to fund commuter rail expansions outside Boston through a mix of existing and new revenue sources. They include some fees that are no longer needed for the Big Dig, and new revenue sources like a “green” fee that would be more costly to owners of trucks and SUVs.
Rep. Cabral was optimistic following the meeting with Mr. Cohen.
“The service might not start when all of us wish it would, but I think the governor is committed, and this is going to happen,” Rep. Cabral said.
Publication date: April 04, 2007
By David Kibbe