Neal flexing muscles for east-west rail
Calls initiative a top priority, matter of regional equity
US REP. RICHARD NEAL on Thursday signaled that he intends to use his considerable clout in Congress to deliver significant infrastructure funds for Massachusetts, particularly his personal priority — east-west rail.
“Trains connecting Boston to Worcester, Springfield, and onto Pittsfield are a top priority of mine,” said Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “The money is now available to do that. It’s a matter of regional equity, and it could be a game changer for local economies beyond Boston.”
Addressing the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce from a room just off the House floor, Neal said Massachusetts is poised to reap a significant chunk of the $1.2 trillion in funding provided by the federal infrastructure bill, in part because three Bay State congressmen will sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“They are going to have considerable influence,” Neal said of US Reps. Stephen Lynch, Seth Moulton, and Jake Auchincloss.
Neal mentioned rebuilding the bridges to Cape Cod as another priority.
The Baker administration has been lukewarm to the idea of east-west rail, largely because of concerns that ridership would not warrant the high cost of such a project, pegged at $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion. Advocates for east-west rail say the state’s projections are off.
Neal said east-west rail would ease pressure on the state’s highway system and make living in the western part of the state more attractive. He noted Worcester’s population has increased to 206,000, a gain of 14 percent since the last Census count in 2010, as the reliability of the city’s rail connection to Boston has improved.
“I have needled my friend the governor a number of times and said to him I invite you to sit in traffic with me at the Sturbridge exit during the three seasons of the four-season year,” Neal said. “I think that improved rail, particularly from Worcester to Springfield to Pittsfield, would be a really sound investment.”The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress is expected to yield about $9 billion for Massachusetts. On top of that, state projects can compete for additional federal funds. State transportation officials have suggested they intend to compete for federal funds to build the I-90 Allston project, but Neal did not mention that project in his remarks Thursday.
Neal said the infrastructure funds are a golden opportunity for Massachusetts. “This opportunity will not avail itself again,” he said.