Things are looking up again for supporters of commuter-rail service to Fall River and New Bedford.
After languishing for years in environmental permitting while even larger doubts about financing loomed, this year the dream project of leaders on Massachusetts’ South Coast has seen significant progress on both fronts.
This fall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a five-year environmental review of the project and recommended it be built as an extension of the Stoughton line, the state’s preferred route.
And before the end of November the House Transportation Committee was expected to endorse a transportation-bond bill with up to $2.2 billion in borrowing for South Coast Rail. The bill is expected to be taken up by the full legislature soon.
“This has been a good year,” said Robert A. Mellion, president and CEO of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce, a staunch South Coast Rail supporter. “A year ago I was concerned. But there has been such a push from so many different groups – from the governor to the legislature, through southeast Massachusetts and various groups and businesses. What is changing is how Boston sees the South Coast. Boston wants to tap into the resources here.”
Even with the progress, making the service operational is at least three years away and could easily be sidelined by political opposition, especially if the next governor does not share the same enthusiasm for the project as Gov. Deval L. Patrick.
So South Coast Rail supporters hope to accelerate the pace of incremental advances to a point where there’s too much invested in the project to turn away from it, a strategy that proved effective with the creation of the Greenbush commuter rail line on the South Shore.
They point out that millions of dollars have already been spent on various aspects of the project, including studies and rehabilitation of the old freight rail lines on the South Coast that would eventually be used by commuter trains. The state is using a $20 million federal transportation grant to rebuild three bridges around New Bedford.