We all know that last winter was not a good one for the MBTA. Just when the T should have been performing at its best, it was at its worst — and a lot of people suffered for it. They couldn’t get to work; businesses couldn’t open; hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of work days were lost.
We will continue to debate the reasons for the system’s failures, but what we can’t do is permit the T’s abysmal performance to halt further progress on expanding and strengthening our public transportation and regional rail passenger system. If the Massachusetts economy is going to continue to grow and create good jobs for our people, making that system better must be our top priority.
One of the most important and cost-effective investments we can make is to connect North and South stations by rail. Permitting this one-mile gap to continue — more than 100 years after a legislative commission first proposed that the two stations be connected — isn’t worthy of a state whose rail and transit system should be the best in the nation.
Connecting the two stations will bring enormous benefits to Boston and the region. It will take thousands of cars off the road every day. It will earn millions of dollars in new passenger revenues and millions more in maintenance savings — money that can be used to pay for all or most of the project. And it will save the nearly $2 billion that we are now told will be needed to expand South and North Stations and the millions more for layover facilities in South Boston and Allston because of the growing congestion both stations face — congestion that will disappear if we connect the two stations. Investing large amounts of money in the expansion of inefficient and disconnected terminal stations is not just wasteful and shortsighted; it signals a commitment to a future without a truly integrated regional rail system and could make a North-South Rail Link virtually impossible.
Imagine how the T would function today if we stopped the Red Line at South Station and started it up again at Kendall. People would think we had lost our minds, and yet that is essentially how our commuter and regional rail system operates.
Cities all over the world, including London, Barcelona, Zurich, and Hong Kong, are pressing ahead with similar rail links, using automated tunnel-boring machines at a much lower cost than our Big Dig. In fact, we have used this technology successfully here in Massachusetts for decades, starting with the Red Line extension to Alewife, a project that has unlocked sustainable growth that has more than paid for itself. Look at Philadelphia. It completed its link in 1984, and now high speed rail, commuter rail, and public transit connect seamlessly at the 30th Street Station.
Our transportation system needs many things — more reliable and frequent service and modernized and better maintained equipment, to name just a few. But more than anything else, we need a true network where the pieces connect to each other and commuters and visitors can get to their destination easily and quickly without multiple transfers. We need the North-South Rail Link.
Michael S. Dukakis was the governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979 and from 1983 to 1991. William F. Weld was the governor from 1991 to 1997.