Boston-The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) distorted data in order to eliminate alternatives to the controversial New Bedford/Fall River Commuter Rail line, according to a report released today by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER). PEER has filed a complaint with the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs asking that MBTA prepare a new Environmental Impact Report.
The report, prepared by Michael A. Nelson, a transportation/management consultant on behalf of the Town of Easton and obtained by PEER, documents numerous misrepresentations in MBTA's original environmental impact report. Because each error backs up the MBTA's preferred alternative, which includes a rail line through the ecologically sensitive Hockomock swamp, the new report concludes that MBTA unfairly discarded the less environmentally damaging Attleboro alternative. According to the report, MBTA used erroneous information to make the alternative Attleboro route appear unviable, including:
·Exaggerating the capacity constraints of the Attleboro alternative
·Inventing "fictitious trains" to explain fabricated delays, and
·Artificially increasing travel estimates for the Attleboro route.
The report only touches on the transportation elements of the proposed rail line. Environmentalists fear that the state has downplayed the ecological problems associated with the preferred route to bisect the Hockomock. According to New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, MBTA had also previously severely underestimated the wetland impacts of the project, failed to find numerous state-listed species on the site, and used faulty air pollution models to justify the route.
In addition, Bennett charges that MBTA cannot justify what will likely be a three-quarter of a billion dollar price tag. "This new route will move at most a couple of thousand people each day," stated Bennett. "At the cost per-rider, I am sure that it would be cheaper for the state to drive these commuters to work each day by limousine."
The16,800-acre Hockomock swamp is the largest freshwater swamp in Massachusetts. Home to 12 state listed rare species, the Hockomock is ostensibly protected by numerous federal and state designations.
A copy of the report, "Reassessment of Attleboro Alternative and Other Options for New Bedford/Fall River Commuter Rail Extension," is available on request.
See PEER's Hockomock Campaign.