Boston — The state’s official estimates of ridership for the controversial Fall River/New Bedford rail line to Boston have fallen by nearly a fifth since 2002 while costs continue to swell, according to figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, construction costs for the state’s preferred alternative transit plan, which would plow through Massachusetts’ largest freshwater wetland, the Hockomock Swamp, will be approximately $800,000 per commuter
The state Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) is pushing a plan to bisect the Hockomock with a commuter rail line to bring people from New Bedford and Fall River to Boston. EOT contends that this route is superior to alternatives, yet –
- Ridership figures presented for the first time last week to the Southeastern Massachusetts Commuter Rail Task Force indicate that EOT projects only 2,500 new round trip riders for the New Bedford line. This estimate is a significant dip from the estimated 2,953 new riders EOT projected back in 2002;
- Ridership estimates for the Middleboro Alternative do not take into account the proposed Middleboro casino, which potentially involves thousands workers and tens of thousands of visitors per day. By contrast, rapid bus (dedicated lane, flexible fuel) has an estimated ridership of 1,750 new riders, but it is much less damaging, a fraction of the cost and much faster than rail; and
- The estimated cost for the New Bedford project is $1.4 billion without mitigation. Adding required environmental mitigation will push the final cost over $2 billion. This would mean that the project will spend approximately $800,000 for each new commuter.
“For $800,000 we could fly each commuter to New Bedford every day in a helicopter,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, who noted that the job creation rationale for the project also makes little sense. “Massachusetts has no shortage of projects that will put people to work and make economic sense. Why push this boondoggle to the head of the line?”
Ironically, EOT submitted its Environmental Notification Form without the ridership figures and then requested an extension citing the lack of ridership figures. Now that the paltry ridership numbers are in, the state will have a hard time justifying the destruction of one of the most ecologically important wetlands in the northeast.
“EOT is already facing a projected $142 million deficit for the coming year,” Bennett added. “Using federal stimulus money on this project will stimulate us all to the poorhouse.”