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Suffolk Group Client Rail to Boston Coalition to Host Press Event on Re establishing South Coast Rail


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By Michael Holtzman

September 15. 2014 6:35PM

With political change on the horizon, new coalition forms to protect interests in South Coast Rail project



FALL RIVER — With a change in the governorship a few months away, a fledgling business group with influential members has organized and is gaining steam to help ensure the $2.3 billion South Coast Rail project stays on track into South Station.

“We’re at a very crucial stage in the project with a change in administration,” Roy Nascimento, co-chair of the new Rail to Boston Coalition, told a Herald News editorial board last week.

Also the president and CEO of the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, Nascimento introduced the coalition — formed in March — as a business and economic development group, primarily.

While Gov. Deval Patrick, during his nearly eight years in office, has fulfilled campaign promises to keep the pedal to the medal with South Coast Rail on the front burner, priorities could soon change, according to Nascimento and Elizabeth Isherwood.

Isherwood heads a New Bedford public relations consulting firm hired by the coalition. It also hired The Suffolk Group, a Massachusetts and federal government affairs lobbying firm.

“The legislative delegation needs support from us. There is support down here, but that could change,” Isherwood said during a 45-minute discussion about their goals.

Competition for funds

“Ultimately, it comes down to competition for dollars,” said Nascimento, also joined by Taunton Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kerrie Babin, and Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District.

Under Smith, SRPEDD has joined the coalition. He said the group “fills a void” for business advocacy of the proposed commuter rail line from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston.

“It’s really fabulous to get the business community involved,” Smith said.

The leaders emphasized that Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton are the only cities in the state without rail activity and the only ones within about 50 miles of Boston that lack commuter rail.

With the November election near, and key milestones reached during the past year, the coalition is seeking stronger and wider support.

Boston press conference

To that end, the Rail to Boston Coalition will host a press conference at South Station in Boston on Wednesday at 11 a.m. The coalition expects to be joined by Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey; state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who co-chairs the House Joint Committees on Transportation; and the mayors of Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton.

“After the election there is going to be a lot of opposition to this,” Nascimento said.

“That is why this coalition formed,” Isherwood added.

The coalition leaders summarized the benefits for South Coast Rail, which received commitment under the state transportation bond bill but must receive annual funding and government support.

Those projected benefits include creation of an estimated 3,500 to 3,800 jobs, 7,000 to 8,000 construction jobs and an increase of about $460 million in annual economic activity, including creation of 6,500 to 8,700 housing units.

$5,000 member fees

The coalition has 17 members, including groups involved in real estate, health care, chamber of commerce and economic development, and related fields, according to the leaders and its website,

Unlike the chambers in New Bedford, Taunton, Cape Cod, the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry has not joined.

Robert Mellion, the Fall River chamber’s president and CEO, said the main reason centers on members’ joining fees, which finance coalition lobbying efforts that he said would trigger reporting requirements by the Secretary of State’s Office.

“But we are (in favor) of what they’re trying to do,” Mellion said.

The financial commitment of members is $1,000 a year for the next five years, Nascimento said.

Smith said key reasons South Coast Rail is vital include the Route 24 “bottleneck,” the main access from this region to Boston, and a population shift toward urban areas that should be a boon to the three Gateway Cities.

While the Army Corps of Engineers, after years of review, approved a preferred commuter route to Boston through Stoughton, the combination of design, permitting approvals, legal battles, funding and construction puts many obstacles on the tracks.

“Realistically, you’re probably looking at six to eight years out,” Smith said. Some expect years more — particularly skeptics of its success.

Only option

Along with the long-stated economic and quality-of-life benefits, Smith justified continued approvals for funding of South Coast Rail rather than alternatives.

“This is what the region has chosen. This is what the region has been looking at for a long time,” he said. “This is the only option we have right now.”

SRPEDD has worked for several years with communities on small technical assistance grants available to the 31 communities within the South Coast Rail project area.