A commuter rail from Boston to the Massachusetts cape is now one step closer to full approval as Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick announced his support of the project following the release of an outside environmental review on Sept. 23.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the South Coast Rail Project, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, investigated alternative routes and modes of transit for their impact on ground, water and air pollution effects. No better alternative was found than a route proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation from Boston through Stoughton, ending in New Bedford and Fall River.
Michael Verseckes, spokesman for MassDOT, said the Commonwealth was concerned with the rail’s potential environmental effects, and they would not be pushing the project along if it did not have important benefits.
“Hockomock swamp in particular is one of the most important wetland areas that provides habitat to many rare species … [and] the rail could potentially degrade the water quality of these wetlands,” he said. “[However], we know there to be a link between transportation improvements and economic development.”
The FEIR is required by federal and state law, but Tim Dugan, spokesman for the New England district of the Army Corps of Engineers, said environmental concerns were of particular concern with this project because the proposed rail passes through miles of wetlands, specifically the Pine and Hockomock swamps.
“Residents of the South Coast have been waiting for 20 years for a reliable transit system that connects conveniently to Boston and everything in between,” Patrick said in a Sept. 23 press release. “We are making it happen, and we thank the Army Corps of Engineers and MassDOT for moving us so far forward.”
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the rail sounds promising, but money is a serious factor for Massachusetts.
“Massachusetts is number one in terms of energy efficiency …[but] the MBTA is underfunded, and as a result we have old, antiquated cars that break down too frequently and aging tracks that need to be replaced,” he said. “Until that [better funding] happens, it will never be efficient.”
The FEIR does not permit any construction, and there are still several steps for the proposal to go through before final approval. Before any further action is taken, the state government is taking questions and commentary from the public until Oct. 26.
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, and Thursday, Oct. 17, public forums will be held at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Taunton High School respectively to discuss the FEIR and potential subsequent issues with the rail.
Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said the forums will help modify plans in the project’s interim.
“[The MBTA] cannot begin construction unless all the environmental questions have been answered, but we are very confident that we can answer those questions,” he said “We will be able to come up with a design that satisfies everyone, making sure that this project is done in an environmentally friendly fashion.”
Some residents said the rail sounds promising, but there are many factors that need to be considered before action is taken.
Karis Vancavage, 18, a resident of Boston, said the rail cold be a good idea, but only if they follow the appropriate environmental guidelines.
“The environment is important and it is a negative effect that the rail will cause damage to endangered species,” she said. “They [the MBTA] should try to find a way to work around [the wetlands].”
Ana Piso, 27, a resident of Boston, said there was little benefit to come from the rail.
“There are ways to get to [New Bedford],” she said. “There are buses, and I don’t see why they need to extend it that far. I think it’s a bad idea and I think it’s unnecessary and they should spend their money somewhere else.”
Brian Ward, 55, a resident of Watertown, said he has conflicting opinions on the rail.
“I don’t think [the project is a good thing] but it is a tough call,” he said “Something has to give. We need to expand and help out [the people of Southern Massachusetts] but we can’t harm these wetlands to suit our convenience.”