South Coast Rail — always just around the bend

Gov. Deval Patrick threw $60 million at South Coast Rail on Monday, and he told New Bedford and Fall River residents that they’re thisclose to finally getting their commuter train into Boston. “You’re right on the threshold,” Patrick told the New Bedford Standard-Times. “And I want to ride that first train.”

The South Coast has been sitting on the threshold for a long time now. Bill Weld promised to build a rail line between Boston and the region two decades ago, saying, “Sue me if it doesn’t happen.” But South Coast Rail didn’t happen then, for the same reason it didn’t happen in the eight-year-long governorship of Patrick, an ardent booster of the rail project. There’s plenty of abstract political support behind South Coast Rail, but there’s very little actual money. And Patrick’s commitment Monday didn’t change that a bit.

 

Patrick just committed $42 million to repair four bridges along the South Coast Rail route. The state also announced $18 million to fix grade crossings in Taunton, Freetown and New Bedford. Patrick, and Weld and Paul Cellucci before him, all spent money on South Coast Rail this way — committing relatively small amounts to lay the groundwork for the rail project, but punting on the tricky question of how to pay for construction of the rail line itself.

The idea seems to be that if the state spends enough money preparing the way for the rail line, it will become politically impossible to walk away from the project. MassDOT’s South Coast Rail project manager, Jean Fox, said as much to the Standard-Times Monday, arguing that so much has been invested in the project that “it doesn’t make sense at this point to back down.”

But not backing down, as Fox put it, involves the same financial and logistical hurdles that it did in Weld’s days. Notwithstanding all the groundwork Patrick has laid over the past 8 years, the state still doesn’t have a plan for financing South Coast Rail’s initial construction — a more than $2 billion effort. It doesn’t have a plan for paying for the rail line’s operation. South Coast Rail cars won’t actually be able to reach Boston until the state expands South Station — a project that carries another, unfunded, $1 billion price tag.

And even before the state starts looking for the $1 billion it would have to spend on South Station in order to lay the way for the $2 billion South Coast project, the state will have to settle a feud with the US Postal Service, which currently sorts mail on the real estate the new South Station tracks would sit on. If this is what the threshold looks like, it’s an awfully costly and complicated one to cross over.

PAUL MCMORROW

FERGUSON

A grand jury declines to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, sparking off protests in the St. Louis suburb and cities around the country. St. Louis Public Radio posts all of the information the grand jury had in front of it. FiveThirtyEight says it’s extremely rare for a grand jury to fail to indict — except in police shooting cases. CommonWealth found similar results in Massachusetts in a story in the Winter 2014 issue. Hundreds rally in Boston to protest the decision. New York magazine has Wilson’s account, explaining, in his own words, why he shot Brown repeatedly.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A clerk-magistrate has dismissed an attempt by a Fall River city councilor to press charges against a local man who posted a picture of her on Facebook with a crude caption. It is the second unsuccessful attempt by a city official to use the court system to go after someone who posted a picture on Facebook.

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce head Tim Murray ponders what MGM can signal for urban development as it builds its Springfield casino.

ELECTIONS

The odds are pretty good that Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan will be recalled and then get reelected, all in the same day, CommonWealth reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Honda could face a $35 million fine for failing to disclose complaints of death or serious injury over the last 11 years, Time reports.

Boston magazine profiles Steve Samuels, the developer who has remade the Fenway.

EDUCATION

The Marshfield School Committee stands by its decision to replace “Christmas” with “holiday break” in the school calendar despite a packed auditorium of proponents to return to the days of yore.

HEALTH CARE

US Rep. William Keating, in a response to a Patriot Ledger editorial urging the new governor and attorney general to act on the alarming increase in opiate abuse, pens an op-ed outlining  what the federal government can do when it comes to pharmaceuticals. Attorney General-elect Maura Healey lays out her approach, including ramping up law enforcement training in dealing with abuse.  Kevin Cullen, in a column titled “Compassion in the corner office,”applauds Gov.-elect Charlie Baker‘s vow to address the problem. Yesterday’s Download spotlighted Baker’s “compassionate conservatism.”

Although Steward Health Care promised to open several outpatient clinics to compensate for its looming shutdown of Quincy Medical Center, the Globe reports that it has begun none of the regulatory steps required to open such facilities.

State officials say the Health Connector website is working well — even though about 10 percent of those trying to sign up through it are encountering major snags.

TRANSPORTATION

Ridership is surging on Amtrak, and the rail system’s operating loss is the lowest it’s been in four decades, but billions of dollars in maintenance costs loom.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The New England Aquarium has been inundated with stranded sea turtles, nearly 1,000 to date, and it’s not over yet.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Eileen McNamara, citing Bill Cosby, says it’s time to remove the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases.

A letter from the defendant implicating himself in a 2008 killing on Mission Hill, found by a prosecutor in a trove of court filings, may revive a murder case that looked like it was going south because of the death of the state’s key witness.