W. Mass. showing clout on East-West rail
New authority sought, along with funding from the T
WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, with the help of US Rep. Richard Neal, is starting to flex some muscle on the region’s holy grail of transportation — East-West rail.
At a meeting in Springfield on Tuesday, officials from western Massachusetts secured Gov. Charlie Baker’s support for a long-sought rail connection running from Pittsfield to Springfield to Worcester, where it would hook up with the MBTA’s existing commuter rail network.
They also won support for an independent authority to oversee development of the rail line and raised the possibility of using a portion of the MBTA’s proceeds from the state sales tax to fund the new authority.
The sales tax proposal is the latest sign that western Massachusetts is tired of its second-tier status and wants a bigger seat at the table when it comes to transportation.
None of that money comes back to western Massachusetts in the form of services because the T doesn’t operate west of Worcester. “We get no benefit from it whatsoever,” Pignatelli said.
Pignatelli said he asked Baker on Tuesday at his private meeting with local officials whether he would support taking the sales tax revenue currently flowing from western Massachusetts to the T and redirecting it to the new authority that would be put in charge of building East-West rail.
“He was intrigued by that,” Pignatelli said. “He seemed open to learning more about it.”
The Baker administration has long been wary of the high cost of East-West rail and the relatively low forecasted ridership, but the possibility of federal funding appears to have eased those concerns,
Pignatelli said the plan now is to write a piece of legislation establishing the new authority and providing funding for it. He said the legislation would probably be tacked on to a transportation bond bill that the Legislature hopes to pass before the end of this legislative session at the end of July.
If the legislation is approved, the state would then seek to tap federal funding available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed last November. Baker on Tuesday said the federal government and Amtrak are very interested in building out the Northeast Corridor.
“I think we have a real opportunity,” Baker said.
“The ability to match local governance of the service with local transportation needs would undoubtedly lead to a more effective service,” the white paper said. “It is assumed that the authority would be governed by a board of directors appointed by the governor of Massachusetts, consistent with other state authorities such as the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and Massport, and made up of qualified Western Massachusetts residents with a strong interest in providing intercity rail service to Western Massachusetts.”