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Electric Commuter Trains? And An Express To R.I.? Baker Says Yes

Early afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic on 93 in Milton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Early afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic on 93 in Milton in March 2019. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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We all know traffic can be nightmare in Greater Boston. A recent congestion study even found Massachusetts is at a "tipping point" as congestion has "gone from bad to worse."

And it's an issue plaguing other states too. Hoping to share ideas on ways to beat traffic congestion, several members of the National Governors Association gathered for a summit in Boston Tuesday.

The summit was hosted by Gov. Charlie Baker and included Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. The governors were also joined by policy advisors and transportation experts. Here are a few highlights:

Electric Commuter Trains & Express Service From Boston To Providence

Baker and Raimondo said they are discussing ways to expand commuter rail service between their state capitals.

"We share many companies across borders, many people on both sides cross the border every day, so it's something we have to work on and look at," Raimondo said.

Raimondo says Amtrak is a good option, but it is expensive for commuters who need rail service twice a day.

"Number one is figuring out how we would run an express train," Baker said.

He also envisions electric trains on the commuter line. (The MBTA currently runs diesel locomotives.)

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the state is talking with Amtrak about leasing "an electric or what's called a dual-fuel locomotive that can run on either diesel or electric" to test it out.

Talks with Amtrak are ongoing, and there’s no time frame for when such a deal would happen, according to Pollack.

Baker and Raimondo said they also need to work with Amtrak to figure out scheduling for express service, since both the commuter rail and Amtrak use the same track.

A 'Serious Inquiry' Into Managed Lanes In Mass.

Baker is all in on exploring managed lanes — express highway lanes that drivers pay a toll to access.

These lanes are sometimes given the nickname "Lexus Lanes," which reflects criticism that the lanes are only accessible to drivers who can afford them. Managed lanes can also require more highway lanes be built, which some detractors say will only attract more cars.

Baker said his administration will do a "serious inquiry" into implementing managed lanes — a recommendation in the congestion study released earlier this month. The administration will examine how the lanes would work and where they could go, according to Baker.

"We thought that was the fairest and probably the quickest way for us to put a congestion mechanism in place in Greater Boston," Baker said. "And the fact that several people have done very similar things in equally congested metro areas is particularly interesting to me."

One place that already has these lanes is Maryland. That state's governor, Larry Hogan, said at the summit that the lanes have improved congestion.

"And we've found ways to do it within existing right of ways," Hogan said. "There's innovative techniques where you can actually do some of these lanes without widening. You can actually add lanes on the existing spaces in many cases."

A 'More Aggressive' Approach To Buses

Collaboration was a constant talking point throughout the summit: Collaboration between states, and collaboration between the state, cities and towns to address transportation challenges.

Baker said he's focused on bolstering the relationship between state and local governments to look at traffic signal technology, better manage intersections and pursue "a much more aggressive approach to designated bus lanes."

Bus-only lanes have already sped up some commutes around Greater Boston.

"They have been enormously successful," Baker said. "And we're going to look forward to seeing if we can't do a lot more of that, because that has also proven to be a very effective way to move people."

This segment aired on August 27, 2019.


Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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