Straus: South Coast Rail Happened Because of Charlie Baker
Earlier this month, residents of the SouthCoast got a preview of the long-awaited completion of South Coast Rail when Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and other Beacon Hill notables made a train stop at the recently-completed Freetown train station.
Phase 1 of South Coast Rail is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2023, at which point the region will be able to enjoy the benefits of passenger rail service to Boston for the first time since 1958.
Rep. Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett) who represents parts of the SouthCoast and chairs the House Transportation Committee on Beacon Hill, naturally played an integral role in the advocacy and legislative maneuvering needed for the project. Throughout Straus's 30-year tenure in the State House, multiple governors were elected on the promise of South Coast Rail and left without the delivery.
However, in a recent appearance on WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight, speaking with guest host Jack Spillane, Straus made it clear that there is one governor who deserves the lion's share of the credit for making South Coast Rail a reality: outgoing Republican Governor Charlie Baker.
"We really have to acknowledge, party differences aside, that this happened because of Charlie Baker," Straus said.
Straus noted that when Baker first unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010 against then-Governor Deval Patrick, he was an opponent of South Coast Rail, but when Baker ran again in 2014 and won, he was a supporter of South Coast Rail and he delivered on that campaign promise.
"What it means to me is that for all of the good work that we've done, and I count myself clearly as a supporter, without Charlie Baker, I'll be honest, I don't think it would have happened," Straus said.
Straus remembered being in Governor Baker's famously minimalist working office many times to discuss South Coast Rail as Baker, with the use of a whiteboard and colored makers, would do a deep dive into the particular policy or project he was working on at the time.
In those meetings, Straus recounted, Baker came to a difficult but necessary decision: to forego the shorter "Stoughton Route" through the Hockomock Swamp, which had many environmental obstacles, and opting instead to use the current route of extending he Middleboro/Lakeville line down through the SouthCoast.
Straus said Baker's decision to use the Middleboro/Lakeville route created opposition to the project even among the region's elected leaders.
"Certainly Senator (Mark) Pacheco from Taunton thought (the Stoughton Route) was the one route and the only route," Straus said. "And in the end he opposed Charlie Baker's decision to build it as it is now being completed."
Straus argued Baker could have used the permitting difficulties of the Stoughton Route and pointed to the community leaders from the SouthCoast who were steadfastly committed to that route as a convenient excuse to slow-walk or opt out of the project.
He added that if Baker didn't apply his famous commitment to compromise and pragmatism, and that if his administration didn't dedicate the political and financial capital to the Middleboro/Lakeville line extension that they did, then the prospects of the South Coast Rail happening would have been bleak.
"We'd have no train today, we'd have no train 10 years from now, and I'd have to say I'm not sure we ever would," Straus said.
"I didn't agree with him on everything he did as governor but on (South Coast Rail), this is his legacy," he said.