Cape officials show how to get rail done

For years, Cape Cod officials wanted to use rail to get tourists off their clogged roads and onto beaches and into restaurants and shops. Coordinated by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, pilot weekend service to the Cape was launched this year in time for Memorial Day by flexing federal dollars to upgrade the freight tracks used to haul trash off Cape. Partnering with the MBTA, the pilot effort persuaded more than 16,500 passengers that the service was worth sampling.

On Tuesday, Gov. Deval Patrick gave his final seal of approval to Cape Flyer, announcing that the summer weekend rail service to Buzzard’s Bay and Hyannis would be made permanent. MassDOT officials also plan to add a stop in Wareham next year. 

The service reaped dividends for a traffic-clogged region that lives and breathes summer tourism. The regional transit authority made finances work. The authority used its own monies, not MBTA funds, to cover operating expenses, and the service had to break even on its Memorial Day to Labor Day operating costs. But the Cape Flyer was so wildly successful that the service was extended through Columbus Day. Fare revenue alone on the service came to more $290,000.

In addition to the Wareham stop, the Patrick administration has decided to look at the feasibility of adding stops in Sandwich and West Barnstable, and moving to year-round weekend service.

According to the Cape Cod Times, Tom Cahir, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority administrator, was less than enthusiastic about the proposal. Cahir noted that communities that are happy with the summer weekend service might not be thrilled with year-round weekend or commuter rail service. More stops means more expenses, moves that may not add up for Cahir.  Some Wareham residents have even wondered who would use the stop.

The Cape Flyer’s success is also instructive for other regions with freight rail lines, such as the South Coast. Former New Bedford mayor Scott Lang has proposed running passenger trains to the South Coast on a freight route from Taunton to New Bedford and Fall River. Upgrading existing rail lines to passenger travel standards would benefit both commuters and freight, which now travels through the region at a snail’s pace.

Launching a Cape Flyer-style project for New Bedford and Fall River would cost hundreds of millions less than the Patrick administration’s nearly $2 billion South Coast rail proposal and take many fewer years and headaches to build. A local commentator called Lang’s plan “not only conceivable, but doable.”

The success of Cape Flyer is a worthy case study for the Commonwealth. Yet Massachusetts transportation officials should probably proceed with caution The service is still fragile: Any combination of prolonged bad weather, an economic downturn, or poorly conceived add-ons could easily muck it up.

 

–GABRIELLE GURLEY

     

BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Martha Coakley say they are partnering up on legislation strengthening domestic violence laws, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A bill regulating e-cigarettes just like other tobacco products emerges from a legislative committee, the Associated Press reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lynn officials look to smart zoning to spur downtown residential development projects that could attract home buyers who cannot afford to live in Boston, the Item reports

Somerville trades in a waste transfer station for new housing along the future Green Line extension route. 

CASINOS

The state Gaming Commission won’t delay Tuesday’s East Boston referendum on the proposed Suffolk Downs casino. Former AG Tom Reilly tells the commission “Suffolk was totally in the dark” about potential business dealings between Caesars Entertainment and the Russian mob.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

President Obama travels today to friendly territory — Faneuil Hall in Boston — to deliver an address on health care reform as he tries to overcome fallout from the problem-plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Jon Hurst, head of the state retailers’ association, pens an op-ed for the Herald urging Obama to embrace the Massachusetts health care model, not push it aside.

ELECTIONS

John Connolly and Marty Walsh go at it in their final Boston mayoral debate, exchanging charges about going negative in the race’s closing days. The Globe’s Farah Stockman asks of Walsh, “Where was Mr. Nice Guy?” Larry Harmon writes that Walsh failed again to answer the questions about his labor affiliations that have dogged him from the start. Scot Lehigh says it’s no shock to anyone that he thinks Connolly would be the better choice, but he says both candidates are really decent and honorable guys. The Herald publishes the 2010 Ethics Commission letter that enabled Walsh to take a prominent job with the Boston Building Trades Council. The New York Times puts Walsh’s recovery from alcoholism on the front page.

In CommonWealth’s Mayor Matters series, Christine Poff of the Franklin Park Coalition says the next mayor needs to play catch-up on parks.

For the four at-large Boston City Council seats, the Globe endorses incumbent Ayanna Pressley, and challengers Michael Flaherty, Jack Kelly, and Michelle Wu. Notably, the paper freezes out longtime incumbent Steve Murphy, who also failed to win the backing of the Herald, writing that he seems “more annoyed than invigorated” by the job.

With a variety of groups preparing to monitor polling places in Lawrence, incumbent Mayor William Lantigua warns against “voter suppression,” the Eagle-Tribune reports. Lantigua is raising more money (a lot of it from city workers) and spending less than rival Dan Rivera, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Scott Brown launches a political action committee in New Hampshire, the Associated Press reports.

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan and challenger Joseph Carvalho debate static development in the city and mounting debt but their exchanges took a strange turn when the stepmother of a veteran killed in a Georgia car accident stormed the stage to confront the mayor over what she termed his disrespect in not attending the funeral or creating a memorial.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

With sales of its hepatitis C drug falling faster than expected, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is laying off 370 employees and returning more than $4 million in state tax credits tied to job growth, the Globe reports.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced an $11 million state grant to spur development of a block of buildings in downtown Brockton that includes the former site of the Enterprise.

JP Morgan’s massive housing bond settlement is on the rocks.

EDUCATION

At a raucous meeting in Worcester, the Spirit of Knowledge Charter School shuts down, unable to meet its payroll, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Suffolk University and Emerson College are in the top 10 of most expensive schools in the country for room and board.

HEALTH CARE

UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester posts a $57 million operating loss, prompting another round of layoffs, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Boston is weighing changes to its zoning code for large projects to require that they take into account flooding, heat waves, and other potential problems associated with climate change and sea level increases.

California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia agree to coordinate their global-warming policies, Governing reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Former Chelsea Housing Authority head Michael McLaughlin is facing new federal charges that he conspired to rig federal housing inspections.

The family of a Middleborough man killed in a hit and run while riding his bike are hopeful that an arrest is imminent after police seized a damaged Jeep they believe was involved in the fatality.

The Lowell City Council debates whether more police officers or more police overtime is the best way to address a spike in crime between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the Sun reports.

An army of angry and crying pet lovers stood outside Quincy District Court with signs and packed the courtroom at the arraignment of the Polish immigrant charged with animal abuse in the infamous “Puppy Doe” case. The 32-year-old suspect, Radoslaw Czerkawski, is also wanted in New Bedford related to a series of burglaries at local churches.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy ponders the question of how to measure the effectiveness of nonprofit news outlets.