Should Bourne remain a member of the Metropolitan Boston Transportation Authority Advisory Board or cancel its T membership?
The Bourne Republican Town Committee and a “group of concerned citizens” last month pressed selectmen into considering that question, arguing the town is spending too much money when it is unlikely that commuter rail service will return to Buzzards Bay.
Shortsighted? The contingent says no.
The committee says the Baker administration should remain intent on improving T services and not rail network expansion. Members hope selectmen will support a request to add a ballot question so as to offer voters the opportunity to remove Bourne from the T.
“There are a lot of people who are really concerned that we’re being taken,” Cataumet businessman Peter Fisher told selectmen, arguing that Bourne is spending money when there will be no return.
Selectmen Chairman Judith Froman duly acknowledged that sentiment and said town staff would review the issue with a report back to the public. That report likely will not come before the end of the year. Withdrawing from the T would involve practical impacts, especially as they relate to economic development boosterism sentiment.
Selectman Peter Meier said he supports eventual rail return, adding the GOP panel misunderstands the annual finances involved in T membership and how they are interrelated with services provided by the Cape RTA and any annual projected savings.
Far from simply a nostalgic notion, commuter rail return remains an aspirational “big picture” issue for the town and its long-term economic development planning for Buzzards Bay. It was mentioned as such by selectmen when they interviewed Town Administrator Anthony Schiavi.
The new administrator told the board he tries to “manage for success” and that “how we get there is a matter of priorities, a matter of being able to manage expectations and avoid things that are unrealistic.”
Schiavi told selectmen during his interview that he views commuter rail return as a “force multiplier to the train station area (at west Main Street) in terms of economic development.”
That sentiment echoed the views of Assistant Town Administrator Glenn Cannon, who as the former transportation planner for the Cape Cod Commission told Bourne officials that commuter rail would ultimately prove to be a “transit-oriented” part of economic development.
Now selectmen may have to implement an interim commuter rail return strategy while avoiding rabbit hole aspects of an effort.
That big-picture legwork may fall to Schiavi to plan an approach of assurance that remaining with the T is a good idea, something he could possibly fashion with State Rep. David Viera, R-Falmouth, and Rep. William Strauss, the Mattapoisett Democrat who co-chairs the Legislative Transportation Committee and rides herd on commuter trains returning to New Bedford.
Meier says such trains would also ultimately be “the right fit for Buzzards Bay.” He says railbed infrastructure from Middleboro/ Lakeville to Bourne has been upgraded, that the Cohasset Narrows trestle has been rebuilt and that accommodating the Cape trains at Middleboro would be “a turn-key operation” and not a major capital expenditure.
“If things work out well with the state, the only remaining issue would be Buzzards Bay parking, and I think that can be accommodated,” Meier said. “Speaking for myself, I think we’ve made a key investment for the community.”