From Sentinel and Enterprise
By Peter Jasinski
GARDNER -- Standing at the site of the city's former MBTA station, Democratic state Senate candidate Sue Chalifoux Zephir on Saturday called for a return of commuter rail service to the city, suggesting that it could be paid for through the proposed Fair Share Amendment.
"If we want to reduce traffic and create good jobs, we must invest in better public transportation and repair our crumbling roads and bridges. That's why I support the Fair Share Amendment and will campaign for its passage next year," she said.
The amendment, also known as the "millionaires tax," would put a 4 percent surtax on individuals with annual incomes above $1 million. If approved on the 2018 ballot, supporters estimate the amendment would raise nearly $2 billion annually.
According to a spokesman from Chalifoux Zephir's campaign, regular passenger train service ran to Gardner from 1851 to 1960 and again from 1980 to 1986. The tracks on the Fitchburg Line of the MBTA commuter rail, which currently ends at Wachusett Station in West Fitchburg, remain in place at the former Gardner rail station.
"Because the infrastructure is here, I'm not expecting this would be a ton of money. There will be the cost in additional staffing and things like that to get the trains out here and the renovations to the platform, but I'm optimistic this can be done," Chalifoux Zephir said.
Though the project would draw from Fair Share Amendment revenues, she added that extension of service and platform renovations would likely rely on federal dollars as well.
Chalifoux Zephir compared her plans for Gardner to former U.S Rep. John Olver's involvement in helping secure funds that paid for the construction of the commuter rail stations in Leominster and Fitchburg.
When Fitchburg Line commuter rail service was extended by one stop in 2016 to create the Wachusett Station, the total cost of the project was initially projected to be $74 million, but eventually grew to $93 million.
That extension was five miles, whereas an extension from Wachusett Station to Gardner would be at least seven miles.
When reached for comment Thursday, fellow Democratic Senate candidate Mike Mahan also said he supports the Fair Share Amendment and that he would like to see money dedicated to universal pre-Kindergarten education programming.
"I have a young daughter who has been lucky enough to experience several years of pre-K and she's only five. I think every child deserves that," he said.
Though in favor of the amendment, Mahan also warned against viewing it as a possible remedy to all the state's problems.
"I think we need to be careful when we point to this and just raising other revenues as some kind of silver bullet," he said.
Candidate Claire Freda said she is also in favor of the amendment, but questioned whether its revenues could be used for a commuter rail extension.
"As a Mount Wachusett Community College trustee, I would like to see anything to help students commute to class, but I'm not sure that's how this is written. It's not for education or repairing roads and bridges, which is how the amendment is written," she said.
Though the amendment is projected to raise $1.9 billion, Republican candidate Dean Tran pointed out that the Legislature has already proposed spending exceeding $13 billion even before the referendum has passed.
"We have to be extremely careful of the adverse effects and unintended consequences on economic growth and driving small businesses out of the state, which will increase the unemployment rate," he said. "This will have a detrimental effect on the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce effort on economic development for areas such as Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner."
Despite several attempts to contact him, Senate candidate Michael Kushmerek could not be reached for comment Saturday.
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