Funds are there for North-South Rail Link

Advancement in technology and added revenues justify the cost

THE NEXT TIME you decide to write about a major transportation project that two former governors strongly support and in which they were deeply involved during their terms in the  corner office, please do us the favor of getting in touch with us first before you write a column like the one that appeared in CommonWealth on Wednesday. We may have our strengths and our weaknesses, but nobody ever accused us of advocating pie in the sky projects without the money to pay for them.

Here are the facts about the North-South Rail Link, why we strongly support it, and how we believe the Commonwealth can pay for it without raising new revenue.

The Link was actually part of my original plan for the Big Dig. As you may know, the Big Dig itself was strongly opposed by the Reagan administration and required a Congressional override, and in the face of that opposition we had to swallow hard and accept the fact that rail would not be part of the Big Dig.

Fortunately, Gov. William Weld made sure that the project would move forward as quickly as possible. He appointed an impressive citizens advisory committee for the project. With the help of Ted Kennedy, he secured $5 million in federal grant money for an exhaustive study of the Link, its environmental impact and its engineering requirements, and thanks to Bill Weld an underground alignment and ” corridor” were preserved as part of the Big Dig that is utility free and ready for excavation.

Moreover, tunneling technology has advanced dramatically around the world. Over a dozen cities are building these links to connect stations within their major cities at very reasonable cost. London’s Crosstown project is 20 miles long, 13 of them underground, and has already unearthed Roman ruins and the remains of Richard III.

Why does it make far more sense to build the Link now in Boston rather than spend close to $2 billion simply to add additional tracks at North and South Station, tracks which become totally unnecessary as we tried to point out in our op-ed piece in the Boston Globe if we connect the two stations? First, because it finally unifies the region’s rail system and will thereby attract thousands of additional riders who simply won’t use the current system which requires multiple transfers for many of them at North and South Stations. Second, because it will make it possible for us to run high speed trains in the Northeast Corridor to and through Boston to northern New England and Montreal.

And third – a point your piece totally misses – because the thousands of new passengers will produce approximately $120 million dollars a year in new passenger revenue and $80 million in maintenance savings. And that doesn’t even factor in the “value added” that will come from private leasing and development along the route, some portion of which can be captured as additional revenue.

Those combined funds will support a 20-year bond issue that can pay for the project. That is why it will be far easier to win public support for the project and why your column today totally misses this key point.

Meet the Author
Incidentally, of course, it makes it unnecessary to spend the billions currently being planned for station expansion and millions more for a layover facility at Widett Circle with all that means for development at that site without the very costly infrastructure that would be necessary if the Link is not built.

Michael Dukakis, a professor at Northeastern University, is the former governor of Massachusetts and a longtime public transportation advocate.