Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Boston South Station expansion focus faulted

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Criticism of a proposed $850 million expansion plan for Boston's South Station is coming not just from fiscal conservatives and anti-rail partisans, but now also from those arguing current plans ignore a long-sought link with the city's North Station.

South Station, used by both Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Amtrak, is the northern terminus of the Northeast Corridor. North Station, also a major MBTA hub, also handles Amtrak's Downeaster service linking Boston with points in New Hampshire and Maine.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has published a 49-page Environmental Notification Form (ENF), and says comments from the public will be accepted until April 9. MassDOT, MBTA, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the city are developing preliminary designs for the expansion and improvement of South Station.

"This project does nothing for North Station, which is almost at capacity," John Businger, vice president of the National Corridors Initiative, said Monday during a public scoping session on the current plan, held at South Station. "The north side is getting cheated by this project and I think over the coming months and years, before this ever gets done, the opposition is only going to grow," Businger said.

"Expanding South Station may restore part of what we have allowed to erode, but it will certainly not give us the 21st century system we need," architect Brad Bellow observed, according to local media.

Calls for linking the two rail hubs are not new. Many parties argued for a rail link as part of Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel Project, or "Big Dig," which concluded in 2006; a 3.5-mile tunnel was constructed, rerouting Interstate 93, but a rail component was deemed unaffordable by state officials.

Initial South Station expansion plans included incorporating the 14-acre U.S. Postal Service plant immediately adjacent to the current terminal. But in February 2012 the USPS said it would keep the site open, precluding conversion of the site to station expansion at least for the near-term future.