Local Government and Politics, News

Baker says no to ferry

Governor Charlie Baker meets with the Item editorial staff on Thursday. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — If your summer plans included trading gridlock for a stress-free boat excursion to Boston’s Long Wharf, think again.

The Baker administration has sunk plans for the Lynn to Seaport District ferry. The $7 trip each way ran in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

“Only 30 people rode it last summer,” Baker said. “Ferry systems that generally have worked on the North Shore are the ones where local communities own the ferry and we help them with operating issues.”

Baker was referring to the average number of daily riders. MassDOT said 4,173 people took the 35-minute ride on the ferry last summer.

Baker discussed transportation, immigration, and his lack of presidential aspirations during a wide-ranging interview with The Item.

Grounding the ferry for now

On the ferry service, Baker said while Congress earmarked $4.5 million for a Lynn ferry, the federal government has not provided the cash to buy the boat. Under former Gov. Deval Patrick, the state contributed $8.5 million to build the ferry pier and a parking lot off the Lynnway.

In 2016, U.S. Rep Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) won a Federal Transit Administration grant to Lynn for the purchase of a 149-passenger vessel for service from the Blossom Street Ferry Terminal on the Lynnway to Boston.

But to get the money, Baker said the state has to demonstrate the capacity to spend it appropriately and prove the benefits associated with it.

“That’s lots of work, and MassDOT and the MBTA plan to work closely with the city to make sure all that happens,” he said. “They won’t give you the money if they don’t think you can operate it. Let’s get the boat and go from there.”

Repair before expansion for the MBTA

The Swampscott resident would not commit to extending the Blue Line to Lynn and said his goal is to fix the MBTA.

“My focus in the short-term is the T’s core systems which have been horribly neglected for 20 years,” he said. “We need to fix the Red, Orange and Green lines so it’s a reliable service. We are miles behind where we should be in investing in the core system that moves 1 million people daily. I will not take my eye off that ball.”

The governor said the state has spent billions on expanding service over the years, yet the investments have failed to boost ridership.

“I believe that if you invest in the core systems so that the T is the reliable, dependable service it’s supposed to be, people will maybe say ‘I should get out of my car,'” he said. “This idea that somehow we should continue to expand it before we create a reliable, dependable service that would actually attract people right now onto the system, doesn’t make any sense.”

Over the last two years, Baker said his administration has invested in fixing the Beverly Bridge, which was on the verge of collapse, and installed a federally mandated system on the commuter rail lines that automatically stops a train before accidents occur. In addition, he said, they have replaced 15,000 railroad ties over the past two years so the commuter rail trains can run at top speed year-round, and installed gas heaters on all of the switchers to prevent them from failing in winter.

The governor acknowledged such repairs are not sexy and don’t get headlines like shiny new trains or the $1 billion Green Line extension.

Immigration

On the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides amnesty to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, Baker said he favors keeping the measure in place. President Donald Trump has said he wants to end the protection, calling on Congress to replace the executive order with legislation. Nearly 8,000 young people in Massachusetts are DACA recipients.

“We believe DACA should be continued,” Baker said. “I would like to see Congress do something to support it, but in the absence of that, two recent court decisions have given me a fair amount of confidence that the program, in its current state, cannot be changed by administration fiat and that’s a good thing.”

On making Massachusetts a sanctuary state, Baker is opposed.

Beacon Hill lawmakers have considered the so-called Safe Communities Act that would prevent state funds from being used to detain suspects on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The proposal comes as advocates have called for statewide resistance to what they call a crackdown on undocumented immigrants by the Trump administration.

“I was a local official and I know what it’s like to have the state tell you want to do,” said Baker, a former Swampscott selectman. “As a state official, I know what it’s like to be told by the federal government what to do. When it comes to law enforcement, the primary decision should be made locally.”

The bottom line, he said, is if you are not breaking the law, there’s nothing to worry about.

“None of the chiefs of police I’ve dealt with think they should be in the immigration business,” he said.

Not looking for a promotion

On a possible presidential bid in 2020, Baker, the most popular governor in the U.S., according to several polls, shut the door.

“I grew up in Massachusetts, I worked in state and local government and have done tons of volunteer and charity work,” he said. “I am pretty embedded in Massachusetts and not that interested in Washington.”

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