The South Coast Rail project is a Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) initiative to restore commuter rail transportation from South Station in Boston to the cities of Fall River and New Bedford along an existing freight rail corridor running south from Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford. MassDOT's stated purpose is "to more fully meet the existing and future demand for public transportation between Fall River/New Bedford and Boston, MA, and to enhance regional mobility while supporting smart growth planning and development strategies in the affected communities".
Priority Development and Priority Preservation Areas 5 Year Update Project
In 2008-2009, all 31 cities and towns within the South Coast Rail (SCR) Corridor study area identified Priority Development Areas (PDA) and Priority Protection Areas (PPA) through a formal process guided by the SCR team and led by the regional planning agencies. The local designations were reviewed and refined at the regional and state levels to produce an official map contained within the 2009 South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan. The official map identifies thirty-three (33) state approved Priority Development Areas; seventy-two (72) Priority Protection Areas; 1 Combined Area; and twenty six (26) River and Open Space Corridors.
Over time, local, regional and state priorities may change and new issues may arise prompting the need for an update of the PDAs and PPAs. Five years have passed since the original mapping exercise began as part of the South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan and a review and update of the original PDAs and PPAs is required to continue informed decision making in relation to planning and infrastructure investments. The regional planning agencies (OCPC, SRPEDD, and MAPC) have scheduled Regional Forums in order to seek input from regional environmental, economic development, transportation, and other advocacy groups.
On March 23, 2011, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District (Corps) completed and released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) which was prepared to identify and address the effects of the proposed South Coast Rail project. As part of the coordinated federal and state environmental review, MassDOT adopted the DEIS document as its state environmental review document (Draft Environmental Impact Report or DEIR) and therefore, it became a DEIS/DEIR. The DEIS/DEIR document served as a joint National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) environmental review document that complied with the procedural requirements of both federal and state law. The NEPA/MEPA review is being conducted simultaneously in order to reduce duplication.
Significant issues analyzed in the DEIS/DEIR included, but were not limited to:
- impacts to waters of the U.S., including vernal pools and other wetlands
- cultural resources
- threatened and endangered species
- air quality, including greenhouse gas emissions
- noise and vibration
- surface water and groundwater
- hydrology and water quality
- socioeconomic effects.
May 27, 2011 marked the end of the environmental review public comment period for the DEIS/DEIR and a MEPA certificate was issued on June 29, 2011. MassDOT is currently working on the technical documents that will serve as the basis for the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIS/FEIR) which is expected to be released in the near term.
The Commonwealth, in partnership with Old Colony Planning Council (OCPC), Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), and Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) have been providing technical assistance to the South Coast Rail Communities in order to implement the recommendations of the South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan. Those recommendations included, but were not limited to: establishing new zoning around potential train stations, enhancing village centers, and developing actions for preserving natural areas. Since 2009, five rounds of technical assistance awards have been provided to the South Coast Rail communities.
In June 2012, MassDOT and EOHED announced the release of Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) Technical Assistance applications. Eligible activities included local actions that encourage appropriate development in Priority Development Areas (PDA) and protection of Priority Protection Areas (PPA). Activities that promote development in other locations consistent with the state's Sustainable Development Principles would also be considered. Subsequently, in October 2012, MassDOT and EOHED awarded over $230,000 dollars to South Coast Rail communities for FY 2013 Technical Assistance.
The following OCPC communities received funding as part of the fifth round (FY 2013) of technical assistance in order to implement the Corridor Plan:
- Bridgewater: Central Square Parking, Pedestrian Safety and Traffic Operations Improvement Project
- Stoughton: North Stoughton Overlay District Project
In 2004, the Southeastern Massachusetts Commuter Rail Task Force was reaffirmed to help the region prepare for the impacts of the re-introduction of commuter rail to the South Coast. Its membership includes representatives from various municipalities, regional transit authorities, regional planning agencies, environmental groups, and business and economic development organizations. The Task Force provides a forum for state officials, local officials, and citizens to review and discuss aspects of the project and to work toward consensus on the design and operational aspects of the project, as well as provide assistance to MassDOT and the MBTA on matters related to public input.