Just as the state voted to move ahead with a (scaled-down version of) the Green Line Extension, and it looks like the South Station Expansion project may be next on the to-do list for the Mass DOT, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and Governor Charlie Baker.
That is, of course, unless Former Governor Michael Dukakis can step in first. “They can’t be serious,” Dukakis said in an interview Tuesday with Boston Public Radio.
“It’s important to understand that both South and North station are getting increasingly congested,” he said. “We’re getting perilously close to a point where we’re not going to be able to get any more trains into those stations. Both of them, by the way. The answer from the [MBTA] over the course of the past few years, under administrations of both parties has been that we ought to expand South Station and add another seven tracks. We are paying consultants, even as we speak, to plan that for $1 billion or $600 million for seven tracks—that’s insane. Nobody in the railroad business is expanding 19th-century stations, they’re connecting them. There must be 50 major cities, all over the world, that have the same problem we do, and they’re connecting them. That’s exactly what we should do, not spend any more time on this foolishness about expanding South Station, it won’t solve the problem.”
To get from North Station to South Station, Amtrak and commuter rail passengers must travel through the city via other means— there is no commuter rail directly between the two stations. The North-South Rail Link, proposed by former Governors Dukakis and Bill Weld, would connect both stations, uniting both stations and bringing passengers North, as far as Maine.
Governor Baker has spoken in favor of a South Station Expansion, but entertained the idea of the Link, saying “the devil is very much in the details.”
“A governor can’t be an expert in everything,” Dukakis said. “He’s obviously got to be advised by his people, and we’ve met with Charlie and he’s a reasonable guy and bright guy and so forth, but he’s getting lousy advice from Mass DOT. They don’t understand the project, they never have, they’ve never been sympathetic to it under [former Governor] Deval Patrick as well as Charlie Baker, and it’s time that Stephanie [Pollack] and the people down there take a good hard look at this and understand that this is the alternative.”
Comparing the North-South Rail Link proposal to projects in Los Angeles, London and other major cities across the globe, Dukakis projected a $2.8 billion price tag— about one billion dollars more than the proposed South Station Expansion project. “Except this project will go a long way toward paying for itself,” Dukakis said. “There are huge savings when it comes to operating expenses, and we’ll get another 80, 90, 100,000 new commuters if we connect those to the stations. Not only that, it’s on the Northeast Corridor, and it will be eligible for 50 percent federal funding.”
Pollack, Baker, and the entire Mass DOT do not “fully understand” why the North-South Rail Link would be beneficial in the long-term, Dukakis said. “The thing that makes it so important is that it fully integrates our commuter rail system,” he said. “It saves enormous amounts of money, puts thousands of people on the system, takes 60,000 cars off the road in Boston every day… a huge impact on climate change… a lot of private groups are interested.”
The idea to connect the two stations is not a new concept, and according to Dukakis, the time to act is upon us. “It’s quite doable, but we’ve got to get on with it,” he said. “Boston is booming, construction projects are popping up all over the place, the last thing in the world we need is some office building that is located in a place that compromises our ability to connect those two stations. Nobody’s going to tell me that we aren’t capable of doing it.”
Michael Dukakis is the former Governor of Massachusetts, the Distinguished professor of political science at Northeastern University, and a visiting professor at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA. To hear his entire interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.