Bay State South Coast Rail Plan Powered by Magical Thinking
Key Ridership, Cost, Impact and Alternative Analyses Divorced from Real World
Washington, DC — A voluminous final impact report for a long-planned $2 billion Massachusetts rail project underlines that quantity can undermine quality, according to a review by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In this latest effort, the Department of Transportation (MADOT) failed to cure previously identified major defects in how it assessed demand, impacts and alternatives.
One month ago, MADOT unveiled its enormous joint Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement for building a rail line from Fall River/New Bedford to Boston but gave the public only 30 days to comment on it. Even a cursory review, however, reveals stunning flaws and unsupported assertions, including –
- Mysterious ridership figures derived from a memo in which the author cautioned “it didn’t make sense” to use for that purpose. There is still no plausible estimate for how many commuters would use the new line, but MADOT refuses to justify its highly inflated ridership assumptions;
- The original diesel train plan has now become an electric train but MADOT cannot identify the source for the electricity yet still claims it will result in a reduction of greenhouse gases; and
- Project cost estimates have inexplicably decreased by tens of millions of dollars.
“MADOT’s project planning remains unfettered by even a semblance of quality control,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney who formerly worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, noting the futility of getting MADOT to clarify its figures or justify its conclusions. “Just in time for Halloween, this is a zombie project oblivious to all facts and reason.”
Despite more than a decade of planning, the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement seems only half-done, leaving gaping holes that are only poorly papered-over, such as –
- A completely opaque “mitigation” plan for which there is no cost estimate;
- Refusing to consider any environmental effects outside the route’s 100-foot wide right-of-way, even though it would bisect the state’s largest freshwater wetland, the Hockomock Swamp; and
- Proposed stations where commuters would stand outside at what is Ground Zero for fatal mosquito-borne infectious diseases.
“The sheer girth of this impact statement cannot disguise the fact that the Commonwealth has embraced the most expensive, environmentally destructive and least practical alternative,” added Bennett, pointing out that MADOT could not even provide a consistent definition of which communities are in the project study area. “This shoddy analysis will not withstand a challenge in court, which means that this entire exercise will have been a massive waste of time, resources and, of course, paper.”