Local Government and Politics, News

Sen. Brendan Crighton renews push to bring Blue Line to Lynn

LYNN — State Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) knows the skepticism that surrounds any mention of extending the Blue Line from the Wonderland Station in Revere to Lynn. It’s been mentioned as a priority of elected officials and those seeking election for decades, with discussion dating back to the 1930s.

But on Thursday, Crighton will renew the push when he plans to file a bill in the state legislature that, if passed, would require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to conduct a feasibility study on how to extend the Blue Line, or rapid transit, from Revere to Lynn. The study would have to be completed by March 2020.

“We understand the cynicism related to talking about the Blue Line,” Crighton said. “We feel that the time is now and the stars are starting to align. I think it’s important we focus on the need for better access to transit on the North Shore … This is something that could change lives and improve our transportation system for the entire state.”

The study will evaluate the costs and economics related to extending Blue Line service, which includes projected capital and operating costs, revenue estimates, projected ridership levels, where it would operate in downtown Lynn and what federal, state, local and private sector funding sources would be available, according to the legislation.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) Blue Line extension study estimated the cost for bringing service to Lynn from $737 million to $1 billion. Crighton said the feasibility study alone, which would determine an updated price, would likely cost more than $1 million.

Even if the study leads to approval of the project, experts say completion of a Blue Line extension into the city would be at least a decade-long endeavor, which would include a design phase, securing funding, and construction.

Now’s the time, Crighton said, as it’s becoming more difficult for residents living on the North Shore to get into Boston. In Lynn, new housing developments could mean thousands of new cars on the road. Rapid transit would be an alternative to improve that congestion.

“The commuter rail serves some purpose and it’s an asset to the city,” Crighton said. “But the cost is too high, the frequency is not there and it’s serving to a different point in Boston without the stops along the Blue Line.”

Options for different routes will be studied, but Crighton said it makes the most sense for the extension to go along the existing right-of-way the city’s commuter rail has at its station. A challenge with that route would be building through marshland. The study would look at climate resilience as rising tides continue.

Some people have talked about a hybrid connection at Wonderland, where riders would get on at Lynn and get off at Wonderland and then connect to the Blue Line there. It wouldn’t be a one-seat ride, but could provide a real transit benefit to many people, according to James Aloisi, who was secretary of transportation a decade ago under Gov. Deval Patrick.

Aloisi, who is the content director for the blog, TransitMatters, served in that role in the administration for less than a year but has emerged as one of the state’s leading transportation advocates.

Another rail alternative in discussion would be alongside a rail line that connects to Point of Pines, but Aloisi said that’s not a viable rail option in its current status.

There are certainly challenges to extending the Blue Line to Lynn, with connectability to an adequate right-of-way, but none of those stand as impossible barriers, he said, adding that it was a project that should be looked at carefully.

Aloisi said the potential connection could be seeing a renewed focus for several reasons, but what he cites as most important is people’s attitudes have changed. He said people are sick of congestion and are seeking public transportation as a solution.

“I think the real issue is not to worry too much about the barriers, but the importance of this connection to the regional community,” Aloisi said. “If we want communities like Lynn to thrive, we have to give people better mobility options.

“For too long, Lynn and surrounding communities have had inadequate public transportation service into downtown (Boston) and to feed into Logan Airport … If we’re going to be serious about regional equity, then I think we have to take a serious look at connecting the Blue Line to Lynn.”

Mayor Thomas M. McGee, a former state senator and representative, has been an advocate of the Blue Line extension since his time in the legislature.

If there were to be an extension, there would be access to rapid transit that’s been missing on the North Shore since the narrow gauge rail line, or the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad, the predecessor to the Blue Line, came out of Lynn.

“It’s good we continue to focus on how important this is to the community,” McGee said. “What we in the city will do is work with elected and business leaders, and the greater community to voice our continued support for why rapid transit supports regional growth.”

The mayor cited the Blue Line extension as a regional priority, rather than one that’s only important to Lynn. He said the need is there — as the region continues to grow and gridlock, its 21st century transportation needs aren’t being met.

“It’s more than feasible,” McGee said. “It’s doable and there’s ways to do it to make it financially affordable.”

Crighton’s push through legislation is one of several recent efforts putting a renewed focus on the potential of extending the Blue Line to Lynn.

MassDOT has enlisted a consultant to conduct a Lynn Transit Action Plan Study, which is underway and looking at revamping public transportation access in the city. A key focus area of that study will be extending the Blue Line to Lynn.

The study will align with the MBTA Focus40 plan, an investment plan that positions the MBTA to meet the needs of the Greater Boston region in 2040 and one that has identified Lynn as a “priority place,” along with Seaport and Allston in Boston, within the existing transit network.

Lynn was chosen as a “priority place,” due to its high population density, high number of low-income residents and the existing transit service, which may not adequately meet the needs of the community, according to Jacquelyn Goddard, a MassDOT spokeswoman.

Richard Benedetto served as project manager for the MBTA’s North Shore Transit Improvement project in the late 1970s, with the central feature being the Blue Line extension, which he said was a major consideration.

The challenges then were making it a priority, as there were lots of other projects committed and under construction and it was one that needed strong federal government support and a lot of money. The extension is more feasible now than it was during his tenure, he said.

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