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.

  • Roger_Chu18
  • Dominic

    Governor, please have some respect for the citizens. While we know there’s no limit to the good you can do with other people’s money, let’s get serious.

    First, Ronald Reagan, blah, blah, blah. So what? Past history. The question before us is: Should we commit funds to build the N-S rail link? I’m ambivalent. But I am stunned at your “outrage” at Gabrielle Gurley’s Wednesday piece.

    Second, what are you prepared to cut to free-up funds for the N-S link? This is how real taxpaying citizens make decisions. No free lunches. Obviously the unicorns-and-rainbows boondoggle that is South Coast Rail should die. Now. What else?

    Third, “thousands of additional riders,” right? Likely a “number” developed by a marketing firm looking to give you the answers you want. Like the one that estimated the impact of the original Convention Center proposal and marketing campaign? How’d that turn out? And please spare us the typical progressive whine: We just didn’t spend ENOUGH? Again, easy with other people’s money.

    Finally, does anyone reading Gov. Dukakis’s piece believe the cost and benefit estimates? Let’s just test one of them. So these “thousands of additional riders” will generate “$120 million” annually, right? Let’s figure on the high side, say, $30 per ticket per rider. Riding in from Wellesley is less than $10 per trip. Simple math gets us to 4 million $30 tickets to generate that $120 million in revenue. Even on a workday basis, that’s 16,000 NEW $30-per-day riders per workday. Really? I know quite a few Northeastern grads, and they almost uniformly have very solid analytic skills. Test your math with an undergrad, sir. And, when has a government-sponsored construction project in Boston ever met its VERY PRELIMINARY (i.e., marketing) projections? So, revenues likely much lower, costs likely much higher, no loose change to use for funding. Unlikely that “value added” will make up the difference, no matter how ritually chanted.

    • neroden

      Dukakis made it very clear what he was going to cut: the $2 billion + in currently-planned station expansions at North Station and South Station, which are unnecessary if the N-S Rail Link is built.

      That $2 billion gets you most of the N-S Rail Link.

      Try reading the article.

  • Richard III Soc CA

    Richard III was found in Leicester as the result of a great deal of research and a targeted dig by professionals. Not in London, and not by accident.

    • Dominic

      Maybe if we build the N-S link we will find Richard IV. Or Atlantis. What “value added” that would be!

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