Town residents have called into question Bourne’s continued membership in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The suggestion has been made by some folks that the $40,000 a year the town pays to be a member of the MBTA is wasted money because there is no service that comes to Bourne, nor are there any plans for service at any point in the future.
That was the assertion of Peter G. Fisher of Cataumet when he spoke to the Bourne Board of Selectmen during its meeting Tuesday, November 5. Mr. Fisher, speaking on behalf of the Bourne Republican Town Committee, said the MBTA’s plans “up to 2040 does not include service to Bourne.”
“A pilot program was voted down because it was going to be $200,000 a month to bring a train to Buzzards Bay,” he said.
In his comments to the board, Mr. Fisher noted that the intentions behind bringing commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay was to facilitate efforts at revitalizing the downtown business district. Those, he said, were good intentions. However, the town’s own Transportation Advisory Committee disregarded some key advice, he said.
Mr. Fisher said that in March, 2015, current Assistant Town Administrator Glenn D. Cannon was the technical services director for transportation with the Cape Cod Commission. At that time, Mr. Fisher said, Mr. Cannon advised members of the advisory committee that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation “was not in an expansionist mode, and had no plans to extend service to Bourne.”
In April, 2015, Mr. Cannon told the committee that he heard from MassDOT officials who suggested the town hold off on any vote to join the MBTA until service was being provided. That warning was similarly dismissed, Mr. Fisher said.
“Another red flag and again it was dismissed by the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee,” he said.
Advisory committee members were aware of the warnings, “but continued with their mission,” Mr. Fisher said. Based, in part, on the recommendation of the advisory committee, residents during the Annual Town Election in May, 2015 approved a ballot question asking whether the town should join the MBTA.
Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority administrator Thomas S. Cahir also attended Tuesday’s meeting. Mr. Cahir admitted to being one of the advocates for Bourne to join the MBTA, mostly because bringing commuter rail to Buzzards Bay is predicated on T membership.
“The statute says specifically you cannot get commuter rail service unless you are a member,” he said.
He also pointed out that the town’s assessment to the MBTA can be offset by its assessment as a member of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. He noted that the Transit Authority assessment is $95,000 a year. The assessment to the MBTA is about $134,000, leaving a roughly $40,000 differential that the town must pay.
Mr. Cahir said that the town’s MBTA assessment can be reduced even further by providing additional Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority service to Bourne.
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Mr. Cahir also refuted Mr. Fisher’s claim that the MBTA has no plans through 2040 to bring commuter rail to Buzzards Bay. Mr. Cahir said that state Representative William M. Straus (D-Mattapoisett), chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said that permits have been secured to build a proposed station in Middleborough that would be part of rail service to the Cape.
“He said they’ve moved from Stoughton to Middleborough, making it easier to get down to Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod,” Mr. Cahir said. “So, it’s exciting that in the next year we can make some dramatic improvements to transit in this village.”
At a hearing in Bourne in September, 2016, Rep. Straus floated the idea of a new rail service station in Middleborough that would facilitate bringing commuter rail service to Bourne. The new station would be built at a freight rail yard owned by MassDOT with trains providing service to Boston.
Trains from Buzzards Bay and Wareham would travel and back and forth during rush hour. Trains from Fall River and New Bedford would be scheduled to arrive in Middleborough at roughly the same time. They would meet side by side on the tracks and avoid the necessity of passengers having to stand outside, or walk, in inclement weather.
Monument Beach resident William C. Stafford sided with Mr. Fisher and called it “a pipe dream for commuter rail to come to Bourne.” He cited several reports and studies that do not include the prospect of bringing commuter rail, and urged the selectmen to figure out a way for the town to leave the MBTA.
“In the last four years, we have spent $360,000 for nothing!” he said.
Selectman Peter J. Meier concurred with Mr. Cahir that the town’s assessment to the MBTA will be reduced with additional service from the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. Mr. Meier suggested that continued membership will bring commuter service, which will be much needed once construction gets underway to replace the two canal bridges.
“These two bridges are going to be replaced in the next 5 or 6 years,” he said. “You need to get cars off the road, and the only way to do it is with some type of public transportation.”
He suggested the possibility of Massachusetts Maritime Academy cadets having nowhere to park cars should the college adopt a no student cars on campus policy, and the town enacts a bylaw prohibiting parking in the Taylor’s Point neighborhood. Commuter rail would solve the issue of weekend travel for academy cadets, he said, but only if the town stays an MBTA member.
“So, are we paying something right now? Yes,” he said. “But with the additional service, the impact will be less, and if we get out we’re not going to get back in.”
Board chairman Judith M. Froman said the selectmen would take all the testimony provided Tuesday night under advisement. Ms. Froman said that once the members had an opportunity to dissect the information provided, the issue of MBTA membership would be an agenda item at a future meeting.