- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Two former Massachusetts governors met with Gov. Charlie Baker to promote an underground rail connection between North Station and South Station in Boston that they say will be a transportation boon to the region.

Democrat Michael Dukakis and Republican William Weld met privately with Baker in his Statehouse office for about an hour Wednesday. The two have begun a new push for the North-South rail link - a concept that has been discussed off-and-on for decades.

The Republican governor said the three had an interesting conversation, but said he needs more time to study the proposal, which he estimates would cost between $2 billion and $4 billion.

“When it comes to projects like this, the devil is very much in the details,” Baker told reporters. “These are projects that should be treated with a high degree of respect and we plan to treat it that way.”

Supporters of the rail link say it would create a more modern and efficient regional transportation network.

They argue it would unite the north, south and western branches of the state’s commuter rail system and provide for the possibility of uninterrupted Amtrak passenger service between Washington, D.C., and Maine.

Dukakis said connecting the two stations is better than an alternative proposal to expand South Station. He said the state would also have to expand North Station to deal with increased rail traffic.

“There’s no option here to delay this,” Dukakis told reporters. “Something has got to be done, and it’s either expanding South and North stations that costs $2 billion or connecting the two stations with all of the benefits, which are far greater than what you get from expanding the stations.”

Baker said he doesn’t see the rail link as an alternative to expanding South Station, which he said has other benefits, like opening up Dorchester Avenue and developing an area along the Fort Port Channel near downtown Boston.

He said expanding South Station “is something we will and absolutely should consider.”

Baker said the economic benefits from expanding South Station could cover the cost of the project.

Dukakis made much the same argument for the rail link, arguing that increased ridership, reduced maintenance and a decrease in car traffic could help pay for the project.

The two former governors also tried to distance the proposed rail link from the massive - and massively expensive - “Big Dig” highway project through downtown Boston. They said automated tunnel-boring machines would cost less and create far fewer disruptions.

“This is not the Big Dig folks,” Dukakis said.

Wednesday’s meeting comes just weeks after a fiscal control board overseeing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was told another major project, the expansion of the Green Line to Somerville and Medford, could cost up to $1 billion more than planned.

The MBTA is also still reeling from breakdowns that brought portions of the aging system to a halt during severe weather last winter. The agency recently revealed that its State of Good Repair backlog had grown to $7.3 billion.

Baker said fixing the MBTA remains his top priority.

Dukakis served three terms as governor in the 1970s and 1980s. As governor, he often rode the Green Line from his Brookline home to the Statehouse and served on Amtrak’s board after leaving office. Weld succeeded Dukakis as governor and also supported the rail link while in office. Baker served under Weld.

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