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Turns out we celebrated too soon.

Turns out we celebrated too soon.

Remember back in May when Mayor Ruthanne Fullervarious city councilors, and, yes, the chamber, all sent out newsletters celebrating a major win in a decades-long quest to fix Newton’s three commuter rail stations?
Turns out we pulled the cork out of the champagne bottle too soon.
I’ll get to what went wrong in a minute. But first a refresher:
Bad design has held us back for decades
Due to some really poor decisions made back in the 60s, the Newtonville, West Newton, and Auburndale stations aren’t accessible to people with disabilities (or strollers or pretty much everyone in bad weather) and only have loading platforms on one side of the tracks.
That platform problem exists only in Newton. No other stop along the entire Framingham-Worcester line (which one day is envisioned as part of a Boston-to-Berkshires rail link) has that limitation.
And it’s a big limitation: There are entire stretches of hours daily when Newton has the only stations on the system without full service.
That's forced many potential commuters into cars. It’s also a big impediment to employers as they look to attract workers from Boston, or points west, to jobs in our communities.
It also hampers Newton’s efforts to help address the region’s housing shortage by building what's intended to be transit-oriented housing along the Washington Street Corridor.
Then we smelled victory
Finally about a year ago -- thanks to persistent advocacy from Fuller, State Rep. Kay Khan, State Senator Creem, Congressman Jake Auchincloss, and multiple city councilors -- the state agreed to fund a design for three new, accessible, stations.
Then came all those high fives in May when Gov. Charlie Baker included $85 million – half of the project’s $170 million cost -- toward the construction of three new stations (with platforms and elevators on both sides) into a supplemental budget.
"It now appears that within a few years, this project will be completed, and it will transform travel throughout the northern side of Newton and, in fact, along the entire Worcester Line," Fuller declared. "I cannot express loudly enough how exciting and significant this project will be for Newton and the region!"
"The timeline for this vision has recently changed from a long-term aspiration to a short or medium-term reality," Fuller continued.
"I hear that train a comin,'" I added.
Baker’s decision came at the perfect moment. President Joe Biden had approved a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill, prioritizing projects that were shovel-ready.
And the project had a key ally in Auchincloss (a Newtonville resident who had been advocating for this fix even before his days as a Newton City Councilor) who sits on coming to the House Transportation Committee.
No wonder so many of us were confident this project was finally going to happen.
Then, whoops
Knowing a federal match was critical to fully funding the stations, Baker stressed the urgency of approving his $85 million request in a letter to the Legislature.
"We cannot lose additional time by waiting to appropriate funds for these projects,” Baker warned.
Want to guess what our lawmakers did?
First, they stranded Baker's request in committee, according to Colin A. Young at State House News.
Then (despite advocacy from Newton’s Beacon Hill delegation) the House and Senate both failed to fund the project in their own multi-billion-dollar economic development bills.

Over the summer lawmakers were able to secure $85 million as part of a bond bill for the project, a step halfway to committing hard money to it. But that bond authorization would need to be slotted into a capital plan to become reality, according to State House News.

Now the project must wait for the new Healey administration -- which hasn't even named a new secretary of transportation, or a new MBTA GM, yet -- to start the process all over again.
Auchincloss sounds the alarm
Meanwhile, Auchincloss has been in Washington waiting, but not necessarily patiently, for his chance to bring the needed federal funding home.
He told State House News this week that he’s already talked to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the need to fix these stations and he's identified a grant source.
But our congressman is worried that delays securing state dollars will jeopardize the federal match and, in turn, the entire project.
"I spoke to Secretary Buttigieg directly about this grant application and he indicated that it's really important for a state to demonstrate financial commitment as well for these grant applications," Auchincloss said. "Those make them much more competitive, which we've known and which is why Governor Baker made it a priority at the beginning of the year to put down $85 million in proposed funding for this in the May supplemental budget."
Auchincloss notes, correctly, that this project’s upside extends far beyond Newton. It's about housing, climate, congestion, and our economy.
"Think of Newton as a bottleneck, where the Framingham-Worcester Line can never really become a regional rail, it can never develop beyond being sort of nine-to-five commuter service into truly 24/7 or even just more expansive regional service until these commuter rail stations get fixed," Auchincloss said.
"It's not just about accessibility, although that's critical, it's also about the actual bidirectional travel capacity of these stations."
And so -- as the state sits $4 billion in unspent ARPA money and state tax surplus and the federal dollars appear ready for the taking, or losing -- we sit and wait, trying to figure out how to get that darn cork back into the bottle.

Note: This column has been updated to correct information about bonding for the project. 

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