The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package has a lot in it — and potentially a lot for Massachusetts. Sen. Ed Markey's office says the state would receive about $8 billion to improve highways and public transit should the bill pass the House.
That made us wonder how much $8 billion really is, when it comes to roads, bridges, and rails. What's the best way to spend that money, if the bill gets signed by President Biden?
So we called up an old friend of the show, and a longtime transit advocate: former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
On what $8 billion means for Massachusetts:
"Well, it's never enough ... but it's an important, major step forward. It's not just for Massachusetts, but for New England, because this has got to be a New England-wide and Northeastern effort to get us into the 21st century.
"There's lots of projects out there that people have been working on for some time. The one that isn't getting enough attention right now is the North-South rail link, which both I and [former] Gov. Weld have been strongly supporting for a long time. We've got a 400-mile corridor in the northeast stretching from Maine to Washington, D.C., with a one-mile hole in the middle of it in downtown Boston. So not only does that make no sense at all if you're serious about modern high speed rail, but that project alone would take 60 or 70,000 cars off the road in metropolitan Boston today.
"[We need to] complete a first class rail passenger system, for example, East-West. Do we go all the way to the Berkshires? Well, that's an interesting question. But at a minimum, we ought to have excellent rail service, not just from Boston to Worcester, but Boston to Worcester to Springfield. And folks in the western part of the state want that very badly and it's essential for their future. So that's an important thing. South Coast rail. Good Lord, how long is it going to take us to connect the folks in New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton and that part of the state with Boston by rail? That's an essential part."
On how this bill could get us to that vision:
"It certainly can, but the state's leadership has got to take this very seriously. And unfortunately, we are not getting the kind of support that I would like to have seen from Gov. Baker and his administration when it comes to this particular project. And it's just so critical. I mean, isn't this absurd? A one-mile hole in the middle of a 400-mile rail corridor and the most popular and the most heavily used part of the entire Amtrak system? So I hope we can convince everybody that the North-South rail link is an essential part of this. There certainly are the resources to do it."
On other projects like highways, bridges and infrastructure:
"All important, but you won't make much progress by expanding highway capacity. We know that. Why? Because as soon as you build a project, it fills up with more cars. This has got to be an essentially rail-oriented approach. And if we do, that will not only reduce congestion dramatically, but will serve a lot of communities in the state that need and want excellent rail connections. And we're ready to go on this. I mean, there's no secret mystery about this. We know what we have to do: South Coast rail, East-West, North-South rail link. Those are the key projects. Now, we also have got New England partners who need some real improvement as well. New Hampshire to Boston, for example, is important to the western part of the state, and can be well served by real improvements."
On what it's like to watch this bill passage play out in Congress:
"We're on the verge of doing very important things right now with bipartisan support. And my hat's off to Republicans, as well as to the Democrats that have worked so hard to get this legislation and get these projects moving. There's more to be done. And my hope is that folks across the political spectrum will see and understand that. I think they do. ... I'm quite optimistic, to tell you the truth. I think it's a great opportunity for us to put people to work, creates good jobs and more than that, dramatically improve the quality of life for the people of Massachusetts and of New England and the Northeast."
On when his vision would become reality if the bill gets passed:
"That depends on the ability of the state's transportation agency and other states' transportation agencies to move and move quickly and effectively. There's no excuse, with this kind of opportunity, there's no excuse for delay. There's no excuse, no excuse for bureaucratic stumbling around here. We know what we've got to do; it's time we did it."
This segment aired on August 11, 2021.