Rail investment is necessary

July 28, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs

I had a fascinating a-hah moment the other day when I was covering the press conference about a rail study that would improve access to rail travel in Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut.

Congressman Richard Neal, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Tim Brennan, as well as Astrid Glynn, Rail & Transit administrator of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, presented a federal study about increased rail service.

Glynn said if the total amount of improvements to the system were implemented at one time, the cost to the three states would be $1.2 billion.

Holy crow, $1.2 billion!

Wait a minute, let’s put this figure into perspective. MGM Springfield is costing about $900 million, just a few hundred million away. Nearly a $1 billion is being spent constructing a casino campus.

I would like to think there could be a way for the three states to figure out, along with federal officials, how this expansion to the rail system could be financed.

Yes, yes, my conservative friends even now reaching for their laptops to send me a harshly worded email about government spending, I understand how the idea of improving transportation infrastructure raises a red flag.

All I have to say is three little words: “The Big Dig.”

The fact is this project doesn’t involve burrowing under a city and water. It’s installing and improving track and buying equipment, a far less difficult proposition than a tunnel.

Think of the kind of transportation system we would have with increased intercity rail linking Boston, Hartford, Springfield, New Haven, and Brattleboro. That rail service would augment the commuter rail between Springfield, Hartford and New Haven. Now add bus service with the PVTA and Peter Pan. The ability not to use a car is now a viable choice in many instances.

Now think about the possibilities of people seeing an additional advantage to living in western New England and how that could positively affect economic development opportunities.

Do a search on the web, and you’ll find stories about how Congress has crammed military equipment expenses down the throat of the Pentagon. We’ve spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks and planes our military professionals say we don’t need.

It is the political thing to do, though, as members of Congress want to bring dollars back to their district or satisfy corporate supporters.

So, $1.2 billion really isn’t a stretch for something that can vastly improve three adjoining states and 470 miles of track, now is it?

Here is something to consider: the Commonwealth wants to extend the Green Line six miles and the estimated cost is more than $2 billion.

That’s right: six miles will cost more than $2 billion.

If folks in the Baker Administration as well as in the Legislature are actually serious about regional equity in allocating resources, this proposal should start down the road of implementation.

Welcome Thunderbirds and Springfield Sting

I’m not a sports guy but I know what having, not one, but two new professional teams will mean for the region.

It’s an affirmation that Springfield and Western Massachusetts is a viable market for sports and it means additional economic development.

Having a team such as The Thunderbirds will mean another reason for people to come to the city, have a meal at a local restaurant and see the negative perceptions about the city are frequently blown out of proportion.

When was the last time someone attending a hockey game at the MassMutual Center or an event at Symphony Hall or CityStage was involved in some sort of incident?

I think the owners group for the Thunderbirds and Zach Baru, the owner of the Springfield Sting, are acknowledging the reality the city and the area are good places to build a business.

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