DARTMOUTH — With the state announcing its plans for Phase I of South Coast Rail last month it seems that a railway connecting Boston to southeastern Massachusetts is on the right track, but with mixed reaction from the public.

Officials from MassDOT and the MBTA held a public meeting at UMASS Dartmouth on Tuesday night to obtain feedback and answer questions from area residents about the project and the accompanying Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR). The meeting was led by MassDOT Project Manager Jean Fox, VHB Senior Project Manager Meredith Avery, Program Manager Rick Cary, and MassDOT Administrator of Rail Transit Jim Eng.

Together they provided an overview of the project before taking questions from the crowd with a series of short presentations the covered the phasing, cost, and operation of the project, as well as an overview of the environmental impacts of it. Rather than going through 15 dense chapters of the full DSEIR, Meredith Avery conducted an overview of the report.

Following the presentation, they fielded questions and comments from about 20 area residents who seemed to be split on support for the rail line.

For the most part, those who support the project said it would be a relief after years of commuting to Boston by car via Route 24 and I-495 from the south coast. Larry Pare, a Fall River resident, described his lengthy commute to project officials and says that another source of transportation to Boston is “absolutely necessary.”

“People are very excited that this alternative is actually available and we want the rail to come to Fall River because we need some type of transportation other than Route 24 going to Boston,” said Pare. “As far as New Bedford and Fall River are concerned, this project needs to happen. I praise the Governor so much for putting this at the top of the list. It has been lip-service for a long time and I'm happy to see that he's going to move forward on this.”

Most complaints about the project focused on the lack of certainty that Phase II of South Coast Rail, which plans to run the permanent railway through Easton and Stoughton by 2030. Some opposing Phase I also accuse MassDOT and the MBTA of ignoring the towns of Middleborough and Lakeville while developing plans for the alternate route to run through their borders.

Ian Thompkins, also a resident of Fall River, says that the Stoughton route is “far superior” to the Middleborough route. He argues that building the line through Stoughton is better in almost every aspect except for the cost to build it. Comparing the billion dollar price-tag planned for a rail way connecting Somerville to Boston, Thompkins argues that it's unfair for the south coast to receive less funding for a larger project.

“The Army Core of Engineers study indicates that the Stoughton line is far superior to the Middleborough line other than it might be a little faster to build the Middleborough line, but not years faster, Thompkins stated. “It's pretty much superior in every way except for the cost. The thing is that it's really not equitable and fair that we're going to get the cheaper version while Somerville, which is like a few miles away from Boston, is getting billions of dollars to build a line there and the entire south coast is getting less than a billion dollars to connect us to Boston. We should be getting a fair chunk of that money.”

Director of the South Coast Development Partnership Hugh Dunn, also Ward Three City Councillor in New Bedford, opened the meeting and introduced the MBTA and MassDOT officials.

"The South Coast Development Partnership is very supportive of this plan,” Dunn said. “The corridor plan includes an expedited timeline of 2022, solid ridership numbers, plans to use the newest fleet of trains, and six new stations. These are all game changers for the region."

Before construction can begin as scheduled between 2019 and 2022, project developers, the MBTA and MassDOT must also complete the state and federal permitting process, continue any early construction as needed, finalize design plans, and complete the MEPA process.

The deadline for the public to submit a written comment to MassDOT, MBTA, and developers of South Coast Rail is March 23rd.

MassDOT plans for Phase I of South Coast Rail. Tim Dunn/TSM
MassDOT plans for Phase I of South Coast Rail. Tim Dunn/TSM

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