Massachusetts fell from first to eighth in the annual state rankings (based on a broad spectrum of metrics), and it’s no secret why: congestion and traffic. As a Commonwealth, we do so much well, but transportation is the lifeblood of an economy, and we rank 47th.
How could that be, just a decade after completing the most expensive highway expansion in the country? Recent studies have confirmed what is obvious to all of us who live here: Further expanding highways just puts more cars onto the most congested roadways and into narrow, downtown streets.
So we need a different answer: regional rail.
Regional rail does not mean more commuter trains like we have today. It means getting to the city in half the time, or across the city in a quarter of the time, in modern, comfortable, fast, all-electric trains like they have in Europe, China, and Japan.
It means getting from Worcester to Boston in 30 minutes, not the current 90, with trains every 20 minutes all day. It means you can live in Lynn or Reading and get to the fast-growing South Boston Seaport in 25 minutes, compared to an hour now — or even to a job on the South Shore, which you couldn’t possibly commute to today.
It more than doubles the number of jobs you can access, and it means coming home to housing you can afford, all with zero-carbon commuting.
For regional rail to truly work, the two halves of our old-fashioned commuter rail system need to be connected, and that’s where the North South Rail Link comes in. It’s why dozens of cities across the globe have built their own cross-city rail links just like it.
Critics complain about the costs without analyzing any of the benefits, which is why the state’s studies thus far are so off. Anyone who says this is just another Big Dig doesn’t understand the engineering. The Link would go under everything downtown, whereas the Big Dig tore up everything downtown.
These critics would have us believe that five miles of tunnels underneath Boston would cost more than what the British have spent on 26 miles of tunnels beneath London, or what the Swiss paid to tunnel 35 miles through the Alps. The latest estimate of $15 billion is outrageously high by any comparison.
Yet even at that price, regional rail would return many times that in economic development, not to mention the lives saved with less congestion and pollution. Still want to drive? Go for it — but at least you’ll have options. And a faster commute.
The Link would also complete Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Virginia to Maine. Imagine trying to sell Amazon on building a headquarters just north of the city on I-93, already one of the most congested highways in the country. Now imagine selling them on the same location, but with high-speed trains to downtown Boston, Manhattan, and Portland, Maine. You tell me which you would choose.
For the state, the Link and regional rail system would be an economic boon, laying the groundwork for future high-speed service to Springfield, New Bedford and Fall River, Lawrence and Lowell, and for rapid transit service on the Fairmount Line. For Boston, it would eliminate the need for large rail yards in the city, preserving scarce real estate for new housing.
For commuters, it would take tens of thousands of cars off the road and even free up space on our subways. For everyone, it would mean better access to jobs across the state no matter where you live — and a chance to make it home after work in time for dinner.
We don’t have to do this — our economy will just stagnate. But if Massachusetts wants to continue to lead, this is the wise, proven investment we need to make.
US Representative Seth Moulton represents the Massachusetts Sixth District.