The case for ‘Environmental Justice Corridor’ train service

Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, and Everett deserve transit equity

FOR THOSE OF us who have long fought for transformative policies to bring the Massachusetts transportation system into the 21st century, the recent CommonWealth opinion piece by former transportation secretary Jim Aloisi and former Senate president Stan Rosenberg was music to our ears. As the elected officials who make up Lynn’s legislative delegation, we couldn’t agree more that we can no longer afford piecemeal, incremental approaches to our transportation woes. We need to act big and we need to act now.

We support the projects that the authors characterized as needing immediate attention. These common sense proposals would take cars off the road, greatly reduce carbon emissions, improve connectivity for low-income communities, and create easier access to jobs.

The same transformative impacts can be created by increasing frequency along the existing Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail lines and offering fares comparable to the subway. We have named this proposed service the Environmental Justice Corridor because of the immense benefits it would create for the working-class communities of Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, and Everett.

For the nearly quarter of a million residents living in these cities, the smell of diesel exhaust, the clacking of trains, and the sounds of brakes and horns are all that they experience of the existing rail service. For these residents, getting into Boston is done by sitting in soul-crushing traffic on a congested roadway that cuts through their community and spews harmful emissions into the neighborhoods where they live.

The current fares and frequency of the commuter rail put access to this public service firmly out of reach for the hard-working people in these communities. The system we have is not equitable and significantly limits economic mobility. The fare for Braintree residents commuting into Boston on the MBTA Red Line is $2.40 one-way and $4.80 round trip. The Braintree Red Line station is about 10 miles from downtown Boston. Central Square in Lynn is about 9 miles from downtown Boston, but the commuter rail cost for Lynn residents to get there is almost triple, $7.00 one-way, $14.00 round-trip.

The commuter rail station in Winchester Center is located in Zone 1, with a $6.50 one-way fare to Boston, $13.00 round-trip, or $1 less than in Lynn. Meanwhile, the average household income in Winchester is $152,196, while in Lynn it is $53,513. Commuters in Winchester pay less despite similar commuting distances and average household incomes nearly $100,000 more than in Lynn.

As pointed out in a study released in August by MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, “housing, land use, and transportation policies that reduce access to opportunity and the potential for economic mobility for those with limited means clearly exacerbate the problem” of inequality. While 66 percent of commuter rail station area residents in Lynn are low income, only 7 percent of the riders that actually utilize the service are low income. This not only saddles those individuals with a longer and more arduous commute, it also contributes to congestion along multiple roads into Boston and increases carbon emissions. The study goes on to say that rent in Gateway Cities has risen more quickly than income over the past decade and that low-income residents in commuter station areas would have extreme difficulty fitting current commuter rail fares into their budgets.

While there is a very strong case to be made for near-rapid transit in these communities, we recognize that the state must look for practical projects that can become a reality in the near future. If we are seriously looking to have the most immediate impact, look no further than the Environmental Justice Corridor, which wouldn’t require land takings, new tracks, new bridges, or new tunnels. Using an existing right of way, this project would have a limited impact on the environment and would require few infrastructure improvements. Simply put, to make this a reality, we need some new trains capable of accelerating and decelerating more quickly than the current locomotives and we need a new schedule.

We have a tremendous amount of respect for the policy minds of both authors of the recent CommonWealth commentary, and believe their piece offers a robust priority list for lawmakers to consider as we analyze the governor’s transportation bond bill and have a much-needed debate on transportation revenue. We also appreciate their inclusion of extending the Blue Line to Lynn as a longer-term priority.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Daniel Cahill

State Representative , Lynn
Meet the Author

Peter Capano

State Representative, Lynn
Meet the Author

Lori Ehrlich

State Representative, Marblehead
Meet the Author

Donald Wong

State Representative, Saugus
But the urgent need for rapid or near-rapid transit on the North Shore cannot afford to wait over a decade. Advocates and elected officials have successfully pushed for more frequent and affordable trips on the Fairmount Line in Boston, and we believe the working-class communities of Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, and Everett have just as strong a case for similar service. The Environmental Justice Corridor would immediately get cars off the road, encourage transit-oriented development, increase economic mobility, and create a more equitable transportation system that everyone can benefit from, regardless of the size of their paycheck.

Brendan Crighton is a state senator from Lynn. Daniel Cahill and Peter Capano are state representatives from Lynn. Lori Ehrlich is a state representative from Marblehead. Donald Wong is a state representative from Saugus.