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Weld, Dukakis to press Baker on North, South Station link

Former Massachusetts governor, Democrat Michael Dukakis met with the press following a meeting with current Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Former governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld sat in Governor Charlie Baker's fourth-floor conference room at the State House on Wednesday, ringed by televisions and white boards, and made their pitch: it is time, they argued, to build a long-sought tunnel that would connect North Station and South Station.

The meeting, which ran nearly an hour and included a Google Earth map of the proposal, said something about the access afforded former chief executives on Beacon Hill. But the aftermath said something about the limits of their influence.

Baker, meeting with reporters, was gracious to his guests.

"I have tremendous respect for anyone who's had this job," he said. He made it clear, though, that his transportation priorities lie elsewhere.


"My focus is to fix the T," he said, using shorthand for the MBTA subway and bus system that failed last winter amid historic storms.

Dukakis and Weld have taken full advantage of a summer lull in the local news cycle to draw renewed attention to a decades-old push for what is known as the North-South Rail Link.

They wrote a joint opinion article in the Globe in mid-August. And they've played the political odd couple in the press — one a Democrat, the other a Republican, one a policy wonk, the other a glad-hander.

Their basic argument is that the regional rail system is fractured. Without a tunnel connecting North and South Stations, they say, commuters can't easily zip from the North Shore to the South Shore.

"Imagine how the T would function today if we stopped the Red Line at South Station and started it up again at Kendall," they wrote, in their opinion piece in the Globe last month. "People would think we had lost our minds, and yet that is essentially how our commuter and regional rail system operates."


The trouble, critics say, is that the project is pricey and cannot be a top priority for a public transit system in disrepair.

"It's not a bad idea," said James Aloisi, a former transportation official in the Dukakis administration. "The question is: Is it the right idea for the moment?"

Dukakis, speaking to reporters after the meeting Wednesday, rejected that argument. North and South Stations are congested, he said, and the state must address the problem one way or another.

"There's not an option not to build," he said. "This has got to be dealt with."

It was part of a detailed, 23-minute defense of the proposal delivered just outside the governor's office.

Dukakis, dressed in a blue-checked dress shirt and khaki pants, spoke of federal loan programs that could help finance the effort, similar projects in Los Angeles and London, and a trip to Philadelphia with his wife.

He also criticized a competing proposal, the expansion of South Station, which he called a temporary, inferior fix.

But Baker, asked earlier if he saw the rail link as a viable alternative to a South Station expansion, left little doubt about where he stands.

"Not from my point of view," he said. "Certainly from Governor Dukakis' point of view, it would be. But not from mine."

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.