A proposed bill circulating in the Massachusetts House seeks to allocate $250 million for East-West rail, forging a major development in the long-awaited project that would make it possible for western Massachusetts residents to more easily commute into Boston.
State representatives serving on the House Ways and Means Committee faced a Tuesday morning deadline to offer input on a $10.4 billion transportation resources and climate bond bill, full of significant investments for highway, road and rail improvements. Representatives gave the bill initial approval Tuesday during an informal session.
It also suggests a legislative starting point to bring East-West rail to fruition, though key details — including what type of passenger authority will provide oversight for the project and compete for federal funding opportunities — remain murky.
The bill emerged just hours after House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka affirmed their commitment to East-West rail and signaled more funding would be awarded to ensure a “regionally equitable transportation system that reflects the values and aspirations of our residents.”
Pittsfield would be included in the future East-West rail route, as would Springfield, Palmer and Worcester, according to the House proposal.
The $250 million designated for East-West rail in the House proposal is intended to cover planning and design efforts, construction of stations, rail corridor improvements and land acquisitions, among other expenses. That money would also be used for “public hearings and engagements,” though the bill does not provide a timeline for that process.
Some rail improvements may be based on a Massachusetts Department of Transportation study tied to East-West rail, which critics — including lieutenant governor candidate and Sen. Eric Lesser — have rebuked as flawed and significantly undercounting ridership estimates.
The House proposal anticipates the $250 million in state funding will be supplemented with competitive federal funding — a key premise Gov. Charlie Baker relied on within his proposed $9.7 billion bond bill earlier this year.
It’s also top of mind for Mariano and Spilka, who in their joint statement on East-West rail Tuesday said the Legislature is “committed to advancing discussions as we seek to unlock federal funding from the historic Biden-Harris bipartisan infrastructure law.”