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Supporters of North-South rail link rally, testify before City Council

Former governor Michael Dukakis joined Monday’s rally to support a North Station-South Station rail link. It’s crucial to solving Greater Boston’s traffic congestion, he said.
Former governor Michael Dukakis joined Monday’s rally to support a North Station-South Station rail link. It’s crucial to solving Greater Boston’s traffic congestion, he said.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

Supporters of a rail link between North and South stations rallied at Boston City Hall Monday evening, cheering for lawmakers to “build the link” ahead of a City Council hearing on how the proposal would affect the city.

Michael Dukakis, the former Democratic governor, was among some two dozen people who attended the rally, which was sponsored by the Massachusetts Sierra Club. Several supporters later spoke at a hearing held by the council’s Committee on Planning, Development, and Transportation.

“You’re not going to solve the traffic problems in this city unless you connect those two stations and take thousands and thousands of cars off the road, which is what it will do,” Dukakis told reporters outside City Hall.

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David Heimann, 71, who used to commute from Andover to the University of Massachusetts Boston, said a rail link would have made his travels much easier.

“I drove in because otherwise I’d have to take the train to North Station, do all that change, go on the Red Line out to UMass Boston,” Heimann said.

Proposed is a pair of tunnels that would run roughly a mile under the city to connect the two Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority stations.

Last year, state officials estimated the cost at $12 billion to $21.5 billion — far more than the $4 billion to $6 billion that a class at the Harvard Kennedy School came up with in 2017.

Advocates argue a link would alleviate congestion at both stations, which also serve Amtrak, make commutes easier by allowing commuter rail trains to run through the city, and reduce the need for train storage in Boston.

But cost is a significant obstacle, especially with the MBTA under intense scrutiny since a Red Line subway train derailed at JFK/UMass Station in June.

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George sponsored the hearing to examine the cost and benefits of the plan for Greater Boston.

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“This of course runs through our city of Boston, and as the capital city and what I would argue is the economic engine of the state and this region, it’s important for this to happen and for us to understand the full impact,” she said.

Governor Charlie Baker has made it clear he’s not a fan of the proposal, while Dukakis and another former governor, William Weld, a Republican challenging President Trump for the 2020 nomination, are strong supporters. Democratic US Representative Seth Moulton has also been an outspoken proponent for the connection.

Lucas Santos, who previously served as Moulton’s transportation director, gave a presentation Monday that examined comparable projects in cities such as London, Zurich, and Los Angeles. It listed potential state and federal funding sources as well as potential private investments and regional contributions.

Last week, the Baker administration announced an $18 billion plan to fund several new and ongoing transportation initiatives, including the Green Line extension and the South Coast rail project. It includes almost $5.7 billion for the MBTA, which would pay for a major overhaul of bus routes, the purchase of low- and zero-emission vehicles, and as many as 200 double-decker commuter rail cars.

Asked if Baker supports a north-south connection, a spokeswoman pointed to comments he made during a gubernatorial debate last November.

“I think it’s important to solve the link problem, I’m just not sure if that’s exactly the way I would choose to solve it,” Baker said.

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Aidan Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AidanRyanNH.