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‘One step at a time,’ Healey says about funding transportation transformations

An Amtrak trained arrived at Union Station in Springfield in August.Leon Nguyen/Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD — Union Station is the gleaming transportation hub of Western Massachusetts, bringing together trains, regional and long distance buses, and a bike share system in the state’s third-largest city at a clean, renovated station.

But the only direct, convenient way to get there from Boston on Friday mid-morning was to drive. There was just one direct, Boston-to-Springfield train available, which didn’t leave until afternoon, and the only direct buses ran just early in the morning and evening.

Gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey said she’ll change that by providing reliable passenger rail service between the cities: the ever elusive East-West Rail. She also promised on Friday a panoply of other transportation transformations.


And yet . . . the Democratic nominee was not specific about how she would fund them. Regional transit authorities, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, are facing large gaps in their operating budgets as soon as next summer when federal pandemic relief funds run out. And the T has recently cut bus and subway service as it deals with several federal orders to improve safety and staffing.

Outside of supporting a ballot initiative to impose a surtax on the state’s highest earners, dubbed the “millionaire’s tax,” that’s meant to fund transportation and education, and pledging to aggressively seek new federal infrastructure funds, Healey wouldn’t say if she is considering raising taxes or imposing new fees in the form of congestion pricing or additional app-ride company levies, policies tried elsewhere to raise money for transit.

“We’re going to take that one step at a time,” the attorney general said in Springfield. “And right now, it’s about making the best use of what we have coming in.”

She appeared with Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor; state Senator Eric P. Lesser, a Democrat from Longmeadow; First District Representative Richard E. Neal, who has long championed the East-West Rail; and other local elected officials.


Healey’s transportation agenda includes long-sought transit expansions such as the Red Blue Connector and the Allston Multimodal Project, and improvements to existing bus and train service throughout the state. She’ll have to balance those goals with the safety crisis at the MBTA, which has recently cut subway service by 20 percent, shut down an entire line for repairs for 30 days, and now must comply with dozens of required actions from the Federal Transit Administration to hang onto its federal funding.

Public transportation expansions such as the East-West Rail are a way to “address real climate issues,” said Healey, who faces GOP nominee Geoff Diehl in November.

Geoff Diehl and Maura Healey will face off in the general election for Massachusetts governor in November.Matthew Lee

But can a state with a history of falling flat on big transit projects and long-deferred maintenance juggle moving so much aspiration into reality at once?

“We can do two things at once, we can probably do three or four things at once,” she said. “It requires intentionality and energy and teamwork. So my money is on us.”

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven.