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Thursday, December 8, 2011

MassDOT Shelves Grand Junction Proposal

On the evening of Thursday, December 8th, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) held a public meeting to discuss their plans for the future of the Grand Junction Railroad. After purchasing Grand Junction from the freight operator CSX, MassDOT began exploring the line’s potential use as a connector between the Worcester Commuter Rail line and North Station. Because of the Grand Junction Railroad's close proximity to residential neighborhoods in Cambridge, many people took notice of this proposal and it was met with a large amount of community opposition.

At tonight's meeting, MassDOT announced that it does not intend to pursue plans for Commuter Rail service on Grand Junction at this time.

This decision was arrived at through the execution of a feasibility analysis that included a ridership study. If the addition of Commuter Rail service from Worcester direct to North Station had been found to increase ridership by a significant level, MassDOT may have ruled favorably on its feasibility. However, the agency's ridership study found that implementing Grand Junction service would only increase the line's ridership by 300 people from now until 2035. While there would be regional air quality benefits from the diversion of 250 cars per day due to the small increase in utilization of the Commuter Rail, MassDOT's feasibility study has conceded that there would be real negative impacts for the city of Cambridge in the areas of traffic, air quality, noise, and vibration.

MassDOT's announcement did come with one caveat: if the required level of funding for a renovation of South Station cannot be secured, the agency would be forced to examine other alternatives for alleviating congestion. At the top of that list would likely be Grand Junction. I will be closely following the South Station expansion’s progress and working with my colleagues in the state legislature to facilitate funding for the project. Expanding South Station will have far reaching benefits for the transit system as a whole, and will keep rail traffic on Grand Junction down.

As a final note, I would like to point out that MassDOT will be undertaking a number of rail improvement projects along the Grand Junction over the next couple of years. These improvements are designed to reduce noise and vibration coming from existing rail traffic and to enhance safety. You may see construction crews working on the rails, but they are not a sign that MassDOT has reverted to their original proposal. Any change in plans would need to go through a public process just as the original proposal did, and would require an environmental review.

I was given the opportunity to speak briefly at the meeting in order to thank the community for its attention to and involvement in this very important issue.
I would like to thank the many talented and committed individuals who eloquently articulated our community's concerns and opposition to this project over the course of the last year. I see this result as a resounding victory for the Cambridge and Somerville neighborhoods that would have been negatively impacted by this proposal, and also a victory for the public proposal process. MassDOT deserves credit for keeping this process open to the community and taking our concerns seriously. Community feedback does indeed matter, and this issue is an excellent example of what kind of results that feedback can help achieve.

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