Budgeting for the transformation of commuter rail
The Gateway Cities Journal
MassDOT’s Rail Vision team presented a long awaited set of scenarios for the transformation of commuter rail at a joint MBTA/MassDOT board meeting this week. Their analysis provides more information about what it would take to run trains every 15 minutes to urban centers all throughout the day. It also gave us a sense of what it might cost.
Before we unpack this figure, it’s important to appreciate the magnitude of the vision. Fifteen minute headways are the Holy Grail. If people can count on a train to show up and get them where they need to be without a long wait, transit becomes a viable option for many more travelers. Real estate markets take notice and mixed-use development concentrates around stations. The end result is a cluster of smaller cities tapped into the global economic center that Boston has become. Rather than Boston sucking in all of the economic energy with an insatiable thirst, a symbiotic relationship forms. The entire metropolitan area is more productive and globally competitive. Growth is more geographically balanced; economic inequality is less pronounced.
Under Secretary Pollack’s leadership, MassDOT has invested substantial time and energy trying to figure out what it would take to transform commuter rail into the regional rail network needed to make this vision a reality. It’s a complex question and the project team is clearly struggling to figure out the best way to tackle it. The information they presented to the board this week was a minor breakthrough in terms of offering us a ballpark estimate of what kind of resources this effort will require.
For roughly $30 billion, Gateway Cities would get trains every 15 minutes all throughout the day. South Station would expand and North Station would also see significant improvements to accommodate all of this new traffic. Riders coming in from the west would have a direct route to Kendall Square via the Grand Junction spur across the Charles River. Stations would have high-level boarding platforms, making trains accessible to all and significantly reducing the time it takes passengers to enter and exit at each stop. And of all of the diesel engines would be replaced with far cleaner and much more reliable Electric Multiple Units.
Gateway City leaders and all of those who appreciate the urgent need to connect Gateway Cities to the vitality of the state’s growing knowledge economy must understand how this resource requirement compares with the transportation revenue debate picking up steam on Beacon Hill. Yesterday Governor Baker filed an $18 billion transportation bond bill to fund projects in the Capital Plan through 2025. The legislation directs $400 million “for improvements to the Commuter Rail system, including early-action implementation of recommendations from the ongoing Rail Vision planning process” and another $400 million for South Station expansion.
This math puts us on pace to spend approximately $200 million a year on commuter rail improvements (which is not that much different from the system’s recent annual capital investment program). The rail vision resource requirement is in the range of $1.5 billion per year over a 20 year period. With the discussion around how we meet the state’s larger transportation needs heating up, it’s time to start budgeting for the cost of truly transforming commuter rail.
Farewell note: This the last issue of the Gateway Cities Journal prepared by Rachel Adele Dec. Rachel is heading off to the University of Chicago to study public policy. We thank her for all of the great work and wish her well in future endeavors.
Housing & Economic Development
Brockton residents in public housing can now get fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to their door.
Francisco Torres, MassDevelopment’s TDI Fellow in Fitchburg, talks to the Sentinel & Enterprise about the excitement around the Activate Mill Street project.
With support from the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), work to convert the Willys-Overland building in Springfield into apartments and retail space begins.
Three major housing development options for Salem continue to be weighed by the City Council.
The Baker-Polito announced the expansion of the Transformative Development Initiative, announcing new TDI districts in Chicopee and Fall River, and a pilot regional fellow who works in Attleboro, Barnstable and Brockton. Fall River has already shown its excitement.
Residents in Lynn organize to advocate for the greater availability of affordable housing.
Governor Baker announces 2019 Affordable Rental Housing Awards, which will provide $118 million to fund the development, renovation, and preservation of housing across Massachusetts. It is expected to fund over 1500 new units.
The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program observes a sweeping return of rent control policy.
Brockton High students interested in the medical field will now have the opportunity to earn college credits through healthcare internships and college courses.
A pilot program will soon place small, free children’s libraries in laundromats all over Chelsea.
Holyoke is integrating the arts are being integrated into the curriculum in unique ways, and the program has begun to demonstrate impressive results.
New Bedford pilots a new program that provides dinner to children under the age of 18.
The proposed Massachusetts budget for 2020 increases funding to public education, giving an estimated $270 million to Gateway City school systems.
A recent State House hearing considers the benefits of making community college free for many Massachusetts students.
Two Senior Fellows at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program insist that the future of cities doesn’t require them to be childless.
Council members voted unanimously to move forward on the plan for an expansive rail trail through Leominster and Fitchburg.
MassDOT presents six different passenger rail scenarios for connecting Springfield to Boston at the second meeting of the East-West Passenger Rail Study Advisory Committee.
Salem experiments with pop-up bike lanes for five weeks during summer, hoping to get people out of cars and onto bikes.
A study released by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council shows that unused parking spots in residential Boston drive up the cost of housing.
Richard Florida writes about a new study that shows start-ups across the country are abandoning the suburbs for small cities with good public transit.
Local police in Pittsfield add a first-of-its-kind radio show to bolster its transparency and information dissemination efforts.
Some local governments are weighing the prospect of banning dollar stores to better incentivize grocery stores to set up shop and eliminate food deserts.
Governing reflects on the promise of giving local voters a say in tax policy.
New Bedford launches a new website, NewBedfordCreative.org, in order to provide a place for artists to discover public funding opportunities and a broader creative directory to link creatives to one another.
A four-day festival held in Lawrence will be dedicated to late film star Thelma Todd. It will include music, movies, and walking tours.
Catherine Tumber writes an ode to the tourism, arts, and history of Western Massachusetts’ Hill Towns.Communities & People
It’s Lizzie Borden season in Fall River and the tourists are a’ coming