STEVE LeBLANCBOSTON (AP) â¿¿ Massachusetts has closed a $100 million deal that includes the purchase of nearly 40 miles of rail lines from CSX Transportation as part of a plan to build a commuter rail link from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford. Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday that construction on the commuter rail will begin this summer with the rebuilding of three freight bridges in the New Bedford area. That work is expected to create 200 to 300 jobs and should be completed by early 2012, Patrick said. It's being funded with a $20 million federal grant and $1.7 million in state money. Under the deal, the state has acquired track running from Cotley Junction in Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford. The state now controls the tracks and will be able to run passenger trains once the South Coast line begins operation, officials said. It also includes the purchase of about 8 miles of track in the Allston-Brighton area of Boston. The deal is the latest in a series of steps needed to turn the estimated $1.4 billion rail project into a reality, Patrick said. Another big step should come this fall, when the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to make recommendations for their preferred path for the rail link, Patrick said. That recommendation had initially been expected earlier this year. Officials have long touted a rail link between Boston and the South Coast as a way to curb suburban sprawl, cut greenhouse gas emissions and revitalize the region's economy. Despite a series of false starts by past governors, Patrick said he's committed to seeing the project through. "We are going to deliver this project and all its economic benefits," he said. U.S. Sen. John Kerry said the state's congressional delegation is also committed to obtaining the federal dollars needed for construction of the rail link. The project will raise property values and lure employers to an area which has struggled with high unemployment, he said.
"It's extraordinarily helpful for the New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton triangle," Kerry told reporters. Since 2005, the federal government has contributed $30 million to the project, he said.Critics of the rail link, including state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, say the state can't afford to be taking on more big-money projects as tax revenues continue to plunge. Cahill is also running as an independent candidate for governor. Even if the state can pull together federal funds to build the project, Cahill has said it's not clear Massachusetts could afford to maintain and run a new rail line. The rail link is scheduled to be completed by 2017. A report released last year by Patrick's administration said the rail link would create up to 3,800 permanent jobs by 2030 and generate nearly $500 million in economic activity. Building the rail line and an anticipated 11 train stations along the new route, which cuts through 31 cities and towns south of Boston, would also create up to 8,000 construction jobs, the report found. The report also said an expected increase in population will help feed demand for commuter rail service. In 2006, the South Coast region's population was estimated at 723,400. By 2030, the population is expected to climb to 900,000. ____ Online: Massachusetts Department of Transportation: www.mass.gov/massdot