Thursday, April 12, 2007

Journalism 018

Rail Line Moves Forward
By Jordy Yager

While regional legislators are excited about the commuter rail plan revealed this week for New Bedford-Fall River, Rep. Jim Fagan, D-Taunton, remains skeptical that the ambitious plan will finally happen.

Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled a 10-to-12-year plan Wednesday that would extend the Providence/Stoughton commuter line from Stoughton to New Bedford-Fall River.

“When they put a timeline on it that extends beyond what it takes to graduate high school and college, then I wonder how much hope there is to get it finished,” Fagan said.

Former governors, William Weld and Mitt Romney, both proposed extending the rail line while they were in office, but failed to pursue it. Other local lawmakers say there is a difference with the Patrick proposal.

“For the first time we have a governor that’s put together a step-by-step plan for how we’re going to begin and how we’re going to end,” said Rep. Stephen Canessa, D-New Bedford.

Although the governor’s proposal is the most realistic that Fagan has seen yet, the commonwealth is facing a $1.3 billion budget deficit, which makes funding the rail extension difficult.

“The $1.4 billion that the governor proposed is probably what it will actually cost,” Fagan said. “But while we talk all this talk, talk is cheap, trains are expensive.”

Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, agrees that while Patrick’s plan is feasible, a way of paying for the rail line still needs to be solidified.

“The big question that remains and will remain is funding. We’ve got to find new sources of revenue,” he said.

Rep. John Quinn, who was at UMASS-Dartmouth when Gov. Patrick released his proposal, views the costs as a long-term investment.

“He said something today that I think was very appropriate, that we can’t afford not to do this with the ten’s of thousands of jobs that will come out of this,” said Quinn, a Democrat from Dartmouth. “It’s a money-maker that will pay the bills.”

Rep. Cabral also sees the line extension as an asset to Taunton, which will have two rail stations.

“When you improve transportation infrastructure, you see a spike in economic development,” Rep. Cabral said. “Taunton will be one of the biggest benefactors in the development of this line.”

Over the next three years, the state will put $17 million towards the initial costs, such as gaining permits and construction designs. The state has until Jan. 1, 2010 to come up with a comprehensive financial plan.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but this is a good initial start,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton.

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