The station that private capital built

In Somerville, corporate interests are practically tripping over each other to pay for improvements to transit connections.

Encore Boston Harbor is willing to pay $25 million for a footbridge over the Mystic River linking the Everett casino to Somerville’s Assembly Station, reports Jon Chesto of the Boston Globe. That’s at least according to Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who would also be willing to finance improvements at the Orange Line station to make the connection seamless.

Construction of the station itself received significant funding from Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developer of Assembly Square, an old area that was razed and rebuilt into a neighborhood starting about 10 years ago.

Assembly Square is a special case. It is now home to the state’s largest private employer – Partners HealthCare – and the $2.6 billion casino across the water holds claim as the largest single-phase construction project in Massachusetts. The price tag on the bridge is about half the $52 million in gross gaming revenue that Encore hauled in during August alone.

Betting that it would be making a bundle, Encore’s parent Wynn Resorts years ago agreed to underwrite enhanced Orange Line service, and paid for new configurations at Sullivan Square that make the rotary seem a little safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. A few miles away at Boston Landing, the shoemaker New Balance financed and built a $20 million stop on the commuter rail next to its $500 million Brighton development.  

That’s all well and good for places where investors are raking it in. Asking developers to pony up in other parts of the state would be a harder sell.

To bring commuter rail service to one of the more transit-starved areas of Massachusetts – the South Coast cities of New Bedford and Fall River – Gov. Charlie Baker is borrowing $1 billion rather than relying on private investors for financing. That is likely a reflection of the reality that wrangling that kind of money from investors along the South Coast Rail corridor would be a difficult and uncertain undertaking.

But the idea of tapping real estate developers was the most popular out of eight possible methods for funding improvements to the commuter rail, according to a recent survey commissioned by MassINC, CommonWealth’s non-profit parent.

While it might not be applicable everywhere, the cities just north of Boston are drafting a new playbook for financing transit improvements. Cambridge and Somerville chipped in a collective $75 million for the Green Line Extension that will serve their residents, and DeMaria told Chesto he would be willing to have Everett finance the $10 million to $15 million cost of linking the planned footbridge with Assembly Station, especially if Gaming Commission funds could repay the city for the investment.

There’s one other hitch in the plans for Assembly and the footbridge. MBTA staff has historically been “stretched too thin” and focused on other issues to pay much attention to the idea, according to the Globe, which reports that Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito told DeMaria on Wednesday that the footbridge would become a priority.

For a project that is already replete with willing investors, that type of high-level political attentiveness might be all that’s required. 

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

The Senate approved a big boost in K-12 school aid, but also passed an amendment that critics said reduces school accountability. “The bill had three legs: funding, innovation, and accountability. The accountability leg just got snapped off,” said one critic. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts was not the only outlier on dealing with out-of-state driver infractions. Making amends for past inaction, Rhode Island is sending the Bay State 22,500 notices about infractions Mass. drivers committed in Rhode Island dating back two years. (CommonWealth)

Thirteen immigrant rights activists were arrested after refusing to leave House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office. The activists want DeLeo to move forward legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. (MassLive)

The state’s Rural Policy Advisory Commission unveils a wish-list plan. (MassLive)

Massachusetts vape retailers can do business online with out-of-state customers but sales in state are still banned. (Associated Press

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is flooding the Mass. and Cass zone with outreach workers, public works staff, and police officers in a bid to deal with the homeless and addicted and also ease pressure on the South End neighborhood. (CommonWealth)

The Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester and the Martin Richard Foundation propose a $30 million sports and community center on Mt. Vernon Street near Columbia Point. (Dorchester Reporter)

Somerville’s Union Square Neighborhood Council ratified an agreement with developer US2 to build 129 units of affordable housing and three parks using sustainable building design and also provide $25,000 to fund public art installations and performances. (Somerville Journal

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Text messages released by House investigators show senior State Department officials coordinating with the top aide to Ukraine’s president and President Trump’s personal lawyer to arrange a possible White House visit for the leader contingent on a promise that Ukraine would investigate the 2016 US election and a company that employed Joe Biden’s son. (Washington Post) In the face of an impeachment inquiry over allegations he sought Ukraine’s help in going after a political opponent, Trump doubles down and says China should investigate Joe Biden as well. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Dan Koh tells Congresswoman Lori Trahan that if she releases financial records and a client list proving she didn’t break campaign finance laws then he won’t challenge her in next year’s Democratic primary. (Lowell Sun)

Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss joined the growing field of Democrats looking to succeed Congressman Joe Kennedy, who is vacating his House seat to run for Senate. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Columbia Gas has been ordered to halt all non-emergency work in Massachusetts. (MassLive)

President Trump’s tariffs on goods imported from the European Union could take a bite out of local cheesemongers’ business. (WBUR

EDUCATION

A Globe editorial hails this week’s federal court ruling upholding Harvard’s use of race as a factor in admission decisions. But Richard Kahlenberg, in a Globe op-ed, offers a sharp critique of that view, arguing that ditching the university’s “legacy” admission preference for the children of wealthy white alumni and giving preference to economically disadvantaged applicants of all races would provide greater racial and economic diversity than the existing system. 

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg answers questions at Amherst College. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Thanks to a federal court ruling, Worcester Polytechnic Institute can hang on to $4.5 million in donations from a deceased donor whose ex-wife felt she was owed a portion of the money as part of the divorce. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Despite warnings and even bans, the number of people with what appear to be vaping-related illnesses keeps rising. The death toll has risen to 18. (State House News) Critics say the state ban on vaping products is leading people to return to cigarette smoking and is producing a surge of e-cigarette sales across the border in southern New Hampshire. (Boston Globe

ARTS & CULTURE

MassDevelopment offers $500,000 in matching, place-making funds. (CommonWealth)

TRANSPORTATION 

A big MBTA Orange Line shutdown with a convoluted workaround starts tonight, lasts through Monday morning, and repeats for the next five weekends. (CommonWealth)

The Army Corps of Engineers is recommending complete replacement, not an overhaul, of the Sagamore and Bourne bridges that span the Cape Cod Canal. (Cape Cod Times

CASINOS/GAMBLING

Edgar B. Herwick III tells readers what sports gambling looks like in Rhode Island, but leaves them guessing about how he did in his bet on a 4 p.m. Sunday football game where his wager came down to the final play. (WGBH

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Despite a court ruling in Pennsylvania greenlighting a supervised drug consumption site, US Attorney Andew Lelling affirms his intention to prosecute anyone setting up a similar facility in Massachusetts. (MassLive) A Boston Herald editorial says sanctioning safe injection sites is a bad idea. 

Prosecutors and police chiefs slammed a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that overturned the involuntary manslaughter conviction of a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student who gave heroin to a student who fatally overdosed. (Boston Herald)