Slow train coming?

The idea of a faster train between Boston and New York sounds like no-brainer. Cutting the travel time between two booming East Coast cities to 2 hours and 45 minutes seems like something everyone would get behind. Everyone, that is, except residents and the political leadership of the two states that sit between Massachusetts and New York.

When it comes to a proposed straightening of a stretch of the Northeast Corridor Amtrak train line through a patch of southwestern Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut, residents in the affected areas and their elected representatives are throwing a big stop sign up in front in the proposed rerouting, an exercise in high-stakes NIMBYism that threatens to derail the project.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal calls it a “harebrained, half-baked proposal,” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His fellow Connecticut senator, Chris Murphy, and the state’s governor, Dannel Malloy, signed on to a joint statement with Blumenthal decrying the plan.

Things have gone no smoother in Rhode Island. At a community meeting last week in the small coastal town of Charlestown, residents unloaded on two Amtrak representatives. “We’ve been railroaded,” thundered one resident, suggesting the Federal Railway Administration intentionally announced the plan just before Christmas when residents were distracted from public policy issues.

The Globe’s Dante Ramos says the standoff shows a deeper problem than just lack of funding when it comes to the deplorable state of US infrastructure. “Beyond a dearth of public investment — which is also a problem — we can’t strike the political compromises, or absorb the inconveniences, necessary to make major projects happen,” he writes.

That reality, along with the fuzzy math of his dual support for big spending and big tax cuts, may be something the incoming president hasn’t reckoned with in his pledge to make America great again by dramatically improving the dismal state of the country’s infrastructure.

The Northeast Corridor rail project would cut the high-speed Acela trip from Boston to New York from 3 and a half hours to 2 hours and 45 minutes. It would do so by straightening a stretch of track extending over the two states to allow trains to reach speeds as high as 220 miles per hour. That would mean running new track slightly inland of the current coastal route, through a stretch that now includes private homes, farms, and wetlands. (The exact length of the proposed new track is hard to pin down. The Wall Street Journal says it’s 35 miles. The Globe pegs it at 30 miles. The Providence Journal says it’s 50 miles.)

A faster train, writes Ramos, would have great benefits for the regional New York and Boston economies. He points out that it would also provide relief to congested highways and airports. Where it would have little tangible benefit is places like Old Lyme, Connecticut, and the other smaller towns that the proposed new bypass would travel through. He says there is a certain parallel with successful efforts by neighborhood activists in the 1970s to thwart plans for new highways cutting through Boston and adjacent communities “for the benefit of commuters from further suburbs.”

But in that case, planners now generally agree that the decision to kill the roadway projects was a good one, that the highways would have done enormous damage to the fabric of the affected areas, while only encouraging more reliance on cars to commute in and out of the city. The Amtrak project, Ramos says, seems to fall in in a different, more troubling, category.

These days, he says, “infrastructure improvements of any sort are a slog. We lack the ability to distinguish existential threats to a community from modest inconveniences, which might be addressed or just ignored.”

A Providence Journal editorial strikes an eminently reasonable stand, pointing to the broader benefit of less car traffic. It also says there will be benefits to Rhode Islanders from new high-speed rail they can also make use of.

“In the big picture,” opines the ProJo, the faster train “is a win for all of us.”

Ironically, the paper says, the battle now brewing in southern Rhode Island is only happening because local officials and the state’s senior US senator, Jack Reed, beat back any talk of the new faster route bypassing the Ocean State entirely and traveling through central Connecticut into Massachusetts before turning east toward Boston.

In other words, Rhode Islanders certainly don’t want to be cut out of the high-speed rail mix; they’re just not sure they want to give up anything to make it happen.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

People on both sides of a proposed Beacon Hill pay raise scheme say they were taken by surprise by the sudden introduction of the plan, which will be the subject of a hearing today. (Boston Herald) A Herald editorial takes a dim view of the proposed hikes. Keller@Large says take care of some the more underpaid state workers like social service workers and home care aides before considering a boost for lawmakers.

A Globe editorial says Beacon Hill needs to pare back its clutter of nearly 700 commissions to those that serve a useful purpose.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A city “ethics committee” that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced soon after his election has been disbanded, appears to have barely met, and issued no public reports or recommendations. (WGBH News)

Walsh’s plan to make pre-kindergarten classes universally available in Boston faces a funding a hurdle on Beacon Hill. (Boston Globe)

Members of the Framingham Charter Commission abruptly reversed themselves and voted to add 12-year term limits for mayor and city councilors in the proposed charter that goes before voters in the spring that would change the town to a city. (MetroWest Daily News)

Bridgewater zoning officials pared back a proposal to site adult entertainment and marijuana businesses in an industrial area. (The Enterprise)

Harwich officials are pushing to expand the town’s largest harbor and overhaul the commercial and recreational dock to allow handicapped access but the plan would extend the dock into federally controlled waters and the Army Corps of Engineers is undertaking an impact study. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Rep. Michael Capuano, who previously said he had no plans to join fellow Bay State rep. Katherine Clark in boycotting the presidential inauguration, says he won’t attend the swearing-in after all, citing President-elect Trump’s recent attacks on Rep. John Lewis as the reason. (Boston Herald) Joan Vennochi says Trump’s tirades against Lewis “showcase a gracelessness and immaturity that’s still shocking to witness,” but she argues the right approach for Democrats is to attend the inauguration anyway and show that you’re ready to do battle with him. (Boston Globe)

What can the Massachusetts congressional delegation do about Trump’s policies? The short answer is not much. (CommonWealth)

Joe Battenfeld says Trump should tune out the noise of Democratic whining, quickly take trips out of Washington, and, contrary to the recommendations of almost all other pundits and pols, urges him to keep tweeting. (Boston Herald)

The Globe chronicles events in the 71 days since Trump’s victory.

Trump’s health secretary nominee, Rep. Tom Price, says in confirmation hearings that the no one will have health insurance coverage taken away under the administration’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but there are still no details on how a replacement plan would ensure that. (Boston Globe)

Tomorrow’s inaugural festivities will be treated by some in Massachusetts, where Trump lost nearly 2-to-1, as day of mourning. (Boston Globe) Only 28 percent of registered voters in the state have a favorable view of Trump, according to a new WBUR poll. (WBUR)

ELECTIONS

US Rep. Joseph Kennedy said he’ll seek reelection in 2018 and has “no plans” to run for any other office. (State House News Service)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Boston Business Journal offers a very interesting analysis of the federal Bureau of Labor’s statistics of jobs in the state, including the fact there are “more people in Massachusetts who can run your company than can fix your toilet.”

EDUCATION

State Education Secretary James Peyser praises the role of a charter school in the turnaround of the Salem schools. (Salem News)

The Southbridge school system, which is under state receivership, is roiled by the racial remarks of teachers. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Lowell school system is considering buying a food truck that could be used to feed students during summer months. (Lowell Sun)

MIT closes on its $750 million purchase of the federally-owned Volpe Center in Kendall Square. (Boston Globe)

The chief executive of the New England Aquarium, Nigella Hillgarth, plans to resign less than three years after assuming the post. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

No one is quite sure what to make of Steward Health Care’s asset-light philosophy. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts hospital officials say repeal of the Affordable Care Act could be devastating for them. (MassLive) US Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of health, promises millions will not lose their insurance but offers vague outlines of what would take its place. (New York Times)

Walgreen‘s has agreed to a $200,000 settlement with Attorney General Maura Healey‘s office, which charged that the some of the chain’s pharmacies were not properly monitoring opioid prescriptions. (Boston Globe)

News you can use: U.S News & World Report offers a list of 10 weird things that can make you poop.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Dealing with the pollution from stormwater runoff is going to be expensive. (Lowell Sun) That’s on top of nearly $18 billion needed for municipal water and sewer repairs and upgrades, according to a report from Auditor Suzanne Bump. (Gloucester Times)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial says the rate hike request of Eversource is out of line.

The chairman of the Barnstable County Commissioners hinted the panel may eliminate funding for the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative but towns that rely on the county organization to manage water and wastewater resources and advocate on Beacon Hill oppose the dismantling. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A private security guard contracted by TD Garden is facing assault and battery charges in connection with the beating of homeless man at North Station, an incident captured on surveillance video. (Boston Globe)

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson explores the case of Roger Desilets, who is accused of pushing his wife out a window, killing her. Williamson says the case shows that appearances can be deceiving and we never really know what goes on behind closed doors.

The Supreme Judicial Court ordered prosecutors to drop many of the 24,000 cases ensnared in the Annie Dookhan crime lab scandal. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Alan White, the former editor of the Eagle-Tribune who spent 43 years at the newspaper, died at his home on Plum Island at the age of 68. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory writes to President-elect Donald Trump asking him to make public records on the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants, something the outgoing Obama administration did not do. (Boston Globe)