New Bedford voters have spoken: city residents have agreed to join the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, clearing the way for SouthCoast Rail to start service to Boston as planned in 2023.

New Bedford supported the measure by a whopping 80.4%, with 16,308 voting yes to 3,969 against.

Part of the process of officially getting MBTA rail service, officials had neglected to ask residents of either city if they would become part of the transit authority district before construction began on the long-promised project in 2019.

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New Bedford's city council voted to add the referendum to the ballot back in August.

In September, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell told WBSM that although the MBTA may eventually charge the city a fee for its services, for now it won't cost anything.

State law requires voters to approve becoming an MBTA district by Jan. 1 of the year service will start — so if New Bedford residents had voted against joining the T, SouthCoast rail service wouldn't be able to start up on time.

Transportation officials said the project was nearing the halfway point in March this year, with an announcement last month that freight trains can now travel twice as fast thanks to the rail upgrades that have already been made.

In a simple question on a separate ballot that just asked if residents were in favor of the move, voters in both cities cleared the final hurdle to getting connected to Boston's transportation hub.

Fall River residents were also asked if they wanted to join the MBTA, but their votes have yet to be fully counted as of after midnight Wednesday morning.

WBSM's Top SouthCoast Stories 10/31 - 11/6

These are the top stories of the past week on and on the WBSM app. Click on the title or photo to read the entire story.

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