The South Coast Rail opportunity sitting right before our eyes

The Gateway Cities Journal

At a MassINC event held in New Bedford earlier this month, Jean Fox, MassDOT’s South Coast Rail Project Manager, reported that construction to reestablish train service to the region is finally set to begin. You could hear the room full of leaders from Southeastern Mass breath a collective sigh of relief upon receiving the long-awaited news.

But not everyone is celebrating; many still question the project’s utility. On the one hand, some skepticism is well-founded. Experience shows that commuter rail lines with high fares and low-frequency service don’t perform well, especially if the objective is to increase access to economic opportunity and produce more equitable development. On the other hand, if we actually want to make bold infrastructure investments to address Boston’s code-red housing and congestion problems and generate more geographically-balanced growth, we would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity than South Coast Rail.

The argument for South Coast Rail is exceptionally strong precisely because the region has been cut off for so long. The path from Boston to Fall River and Taunton takes you down the Southeast Expressway, through the Braintree Split, and out on to Route 24. If your destination is New Bedford, you must traverse several more choke points, including the Route 140 exit ramp and the I-195 interchange. If you’re in doubt about how bad this journey has become, try this out: look up directions for New Bedford to Boston and set 9:00AM for your arrival time. Google advises you to leave at 6:30AM. That’s two-and-a-half hours to go less than 60 miles.

Together, Fall River, New Bedford, and Taunton are home to a quarter million residents. And they each have substantial capacity to grow with infill development. The region is home to lots of smaller extremely livable communities where housing is affordable and developable land is plentiful.

But South Coast rail isn’t just about feeding Boston’s omnivorous economy. The South Coast has economic assets. If we want to tap them to make the state’s economy stronger and more resilient, the South Coast needs connections to Boston’s R&D, expert service providers, and international linkages. By tapping into these unique assets, the South Coast economy will be in a far better position to compete globally, especially in growing maritime industrial sectors.

Reliable transport is the way to forge these connections. Efforts are already underway to transform the commuter rail so that it provides the North Shore, Central Massachusetts, and the Merrimack Valley with faster, more frequent, and more dependable connections to Boston. The return on investment we could reap by providing this kind of service to the South Coast isn’t that difficult to make out, but sometimes what sits right before our eyes can be hardest to see.

Housing/Economic Development/TOD

MassDevelopment will host a workshop on planning for inclusive development in Chelsea.

NewVue Communities’ Small Business Department, operating out of Fitchburg State’s ideaLab, is poised to become a driving force for revitalization in Fitchburg.

Boston real estate firm A.W. Perry signs a deal to buy the Garelick Farms plant on the Lynnway. “We like the real estate dynamic and resurgence in Lynn,” says the company’s executive vice president.

Developers tied to Worcester’s Polar Park expand the scope of their downtown projects, adding a new five-story office building to their existing plans.

Quincy nonprofit that provides education to first-time home buyers and foreclosure counseling will receive more than $300,000 in state grants to expand.

Worcester’s Kelley Square multi-agency redesign project receives the 2019 Jane Award for the project’s transparency, community-based approach, and collaborative spirit.

LISC announces Opportunity Zone capacity building grants for CDCs in Massachusetts.

The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development launches a new vacant store fronts program to help revitalize downtowns and commercial areas.

Governing looks at the impact of the rise in renting for cities.

An article in Shelterforce argues affordable housing finance is hot-market centric.

California prepares to vote on the promising SB 50, a statewide transit-oriented development “upzoning” bill. Researchers at UC Berkeley quantify the bill’s impact.


BayCoast Bank provides a $60,000 grant to bolster the Lynch Leadership Academy South Coast Micro-Academy, which is a collaborative educational initiative between several Fall River and New Bedford schools.

Quincy High School hosts a Women in the Trade Summit next week to try to spur greater female student participation in the district’s career education programs, which aim to help heighten representation of women in trade jobs.

The Rennie Center holds a full-day conference on the state of social-emotional learning on May 1.

CityLab explores how charter schools are looking to the tax incentives in the federal Opportunity Zone program to help pay for new school construction.

The Education Redesign Lab at Harvard looks at the benefits of individual student learning plans.


According to a new MassINC Polling Group survey, Massachusetts voters are feeling less than optimistic about improvements to roadways and public transit in the near future. Jesse Mermell, president of Alliance for Business Leadership stated, “In order to ensure the Commonwealth’s future economic competitiveness, solutions to this problem must be comprehensive, equitable, and implemented quickly.”

Former State Senator Ben Downing proposes an idea for how the Massachusetts transportation system can move forward.

StreetsBlog showcases the most egregious examples of car-oriented land use this year, focusing on places that had overcome the worst excesses of 20th century planning.

MassDOT releases its capital investment plan hearing schedule including stops in Fall RiverLowellPittsfieldSpringfield and Worcester.

Creative Placemaking

The Taste of Fall River showcases downtown dining.

Michelle Guzman plans to lead nine historical walking tours through Lynn’s Downtown during

ArtWeek Lynn’s 10-day celebration of the city’s cultural community.

Springfield’s opening day of “Food Truck Fridays” is set for May 3, with other festivities to follow all weekend.

The City of Worcester partners with the Worcester Cultural Coalition to launch the Worcester Windows exhibit called “Vive Mas!” on display through June. Worcester’s new Business Improvement District will also hire ambassadors to guide tourists in its downtown. 


Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley visits Chelsea for a roundtable to discuss Transit Equity.

Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella’s offers residents a free cup of coffee for reporting potholes.

The Worcester Police Department plans to equipped 20 police officers with body cameras as part of a six-month pilot program funded by Axon Enterprise.

Communities & People

Andrea Baez is tapped to lead the Lynn YMCA through its upcoming transition to a new building, as the nonprofit continues to grow in size and scope.

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