There’s an old Japanese proverb: Vision without planning is a dream, but planning without vision is a nightmare. We live the proverbial nightmare on the Bay State’s roads and public transit systems, but this week we got a signal that the future may be brighter. On Monday, the MBTA Financial Management Control Board (FMCB) passed five resolutions to set in motion commuter rail transformation. Lumbering old trains that have operated chiefly to schlep suburban office workers will become a robust regional rail network with bi-directional subway-like service, steadily moving people along lines between Boston and Gateway Cities throughout the day.

Emanating from MassDOT’s first-rate Rail Vision planning process, the resolutions come a week after Massachusetts business leaders released revenue raising proposals to generate the funds required to upgrade the rail infrastructure, expand and modernize the fleet, and sustainably operate dramatically enhanced service.

A strong sense that they would have the backing of business leaders put Rail Vision planners in an enviable position to think bold. The planners also received a clear directive from the Governor’s Future of Transportation Commission, which one year ago singled out regional rail as the kind of investment the state should carefully consider as it looks to maximize the movement of people rather than single-occupant vehicles.

The way the FMCB deftly balanced the tension between a big, comprehensive plan and the urgency to actually get things done is another notable departure from the past. Moving forward immediately with electrified high-frequency service on the Fairmont, Providence, and Newburyport lines can deliver relatively quick improvements while the MBTA gains much needed expertise and staff. Phasing the delivery of a robust regional rail system also builds in flexibility so that the system can adapt to rapidly changing technology.

This process of setting a vision and creating a plan that serves as a guide to implementation but allows for adjustments as conditions change aligns with how Toronto has delivered regional rail service with trains every 15 minutes. With each incremental investment, they are demonstrating the economic AND social benefits of their larger rail vision.

All of the above should give Gateway City leaders reason to be hopeful about the prospect for a rail system that weaves together the Commonwealth’s regional economies. However, celebration is premature. The legislature must pass a revenue package that delivers the capital investments to electrify and improve the system and allows the MBTA to cover the operating costs of enhanced service on all lines. Without revenue, this rail vision is nothing more than a dream.


Housing and Economic Development 

Legal assistance is now available for individuals facing housing discrimination in Fitchburg’s rental market.

Elected officials and clergy members attend the opening of a new family shelter at the former convent in Worcester. Families set to move in within the next six weeks.

Neighbors turn out in force to oppose a 48-unit condominium project in Quincy.

The Worcester Historical Commission raises concerns about plans to install a glass facade on the Midtown Mall, one of the last art deco buildings in the city.

Worcester launches a new program to increase homeownership and rehab triple deckers.

The Lowell Sun editorializes in favor of Governor Baker’s Housing Choice bill.

The Urban Institute says HUD’s controversial RAD program has mostly been a good thing.

Transportation

A majority of the T Control Board agrees that the MBTA needs additional revenue to improve the current system.

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board unanimously approves five resolutions designed to transform the commuter rail system into a more subway-like system with electrified trains running every 15 to 20 minutes on the “most dense corridors.” NextCity makes it national news.

Senate President Karen Spilka won’t commit to taking up a transportation revenue bill if the House passes one.

The business group A Better City says the state needs a minimum of $50 billion over the next 20 years to meet its transportation needs, and outlines a revenue plan that combines a lot more tolling, tax hikes, and higher fees on rideshares to meet the goal.

Education

MassINC releases a new report on Early College expansion at the joint Massachusetts Association of School Committee/Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Annual Conference.

This week on our Gateways podcast, we explore the role of schools in neighborhood stabilization with Michael Moriarty, executive director of the One Holyoke development corporation and a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In Holyoke, voters soundly reject funding for the middle school project.

Discovery Language Academy in New Bedford is teaching adults and children Portuguese.

New Bedford High will receives a state grant to develop a curriculum and vocational training focused on marine manufacturing and life sciences.

The legislature is on the verge of passing an initiative that will commit the state to providing 50 cents for every dollar donated to public college endowments in Massachusetts.

Every public community college in the state except one has seen a drop in enrollment over the last decade as higher education institutions feel the demographic pinch of a decline in the college-age population.

Elections

Brockton residents head to the polls to elect City Councilor Robert Sullivan mayor.

Incumbent Jon Mitchell is re-elected with more than 70 percent of the vote in New Bedford.

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini is re-elected to a record ninth term.

Paul Coogan sweeps up nearly 80 percent of the vote in the Fall River mayoral contest.

Mayor Linda Tyeris elected to another term in Pittsfield.

Springfield’s Domenic Sarno wins another term, making him longest-serving mayor in city history.

Lowell voters reject rank-choice voting, choosing instead to elect city councilors and school committee members to both district and at-large seats.

Creative Placemaking

Students in Lynn take tours to view city murals under a new program established by the creative placemaking non-profit BeyondWalls.

Zeiterion Theatre Inc. waits on the Governor to sign legislation that would allow a 99-year lease with the city of New Bedford to operate the landmark performing arts center.

New Bedford program awards $82,000 in grants to 13 creative placemaking projects as part of Arts & Culture plan established in 2018.

Communities & People

Mellissa Santos says Taunton should embrace its Gateway City status.

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