By By Bera Dunau firstname.lastname@example.org
FOXBORO — The daily commuter rail pilot program could cause some pretty explosive political fireworks in the race for the Bristol and Norfolk Massachusetts State Senate District.
“I will support a Democrat against the train over a Republican in favor of the train,” said Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk.
Dooley clarified that he means a Republican who backs the pilot in its current form, as he does not consider the proposed expansion to be fiscally conservative. However, that a sitting state representative would be willing to cross party lines to oppose the project really highlights the passion that it has stirred up.
Scott Ferguson lives on Shufelt Road with his wife Priscilla MacKenzie. Ferguson, a graphic designer by trade, designed the anti-Kraft Line signs with Dooley, and both he and MacKenzie have gathered signatures for the Dooley-created petition against the pilot program.
Dooley says that the petition currently has about 1,300 signatures.
Both Ferguson and MacKenzie say they are political independents, but indicated that they will be one issue voters in the special election for the Bristol and Norfolk seat.
“If somebody says they’re for the train they’re definitely off my vote list right now,” said Ferguson.
The seat’s former representative, Jim Timilty, D-Walpole, who resigned to become Norfolk County Treasurer, was a fierce foe of the pilot program.
“It was kind of a drag to hear that,” said Ferguson, on Timilty’s resignation, saying that Timilty was an effective opponent of undesirable development in South Walpole in the past.
“There’s always a fight living in this area of South Walpole,” said MacKenzie.
The fierce nature of the Walpole opposition to the pilot program was on full display at a meeting at the Boyden Elementary School that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation hosted on the pilot program on Dec. 6.
One of the people who weathered the constant storm of criticism that night was Michael Berry, the legislative director for the DOT. Berry, a former Walpole selectman and school committee member, is currently running for the Bristol and Norfolk seat as a Republican.
“I don’t think that meeting bodes well for Mike Berry’s campaign,” said Dooley.
Berry also doesn’t seem to have made a good impression on Ferguson or MacKenzie.
“He just seems completely untrustworthy,” said Ferguson.
While Berry promoted the pilot program as part of his job, he actually has not released his personal position on the pilot yet. He says he will do so, however, once he resigns from his job.
One of the people who spoke in opposition at the Dec. 6 meeting, and who is now running for election to the Walpole Board of Selectman, is former selectman Cliff Snuffer.
“Walpole is the more aggrieved of the two communities,” said Snuffer. “We have a hundred plus homes that the train will be rambling by.”
Snuffer noted that the train will pass by a post office and fire station, and that the at-grade crossing in Walpole is near The Boyden School.
The trains on the pilot program line would be set to average at a speed of about 40 miles per hour, which raises safety concerns for Ferguson.
“Some kid’s going to get killed here, absolutely,” said Ferguson.
Snuffer said that he hasn’t heard about the train being a litmus test for voters, but said that he certainly thought it could be. Dooley, meanwhile, said that he thinks it will be a factor for a number of voters.
“I think it will be a swaying issue,” said Dooley, noting the approximately 930 voters on his anti-pilot mailing list. “In a special election, it’s a huge number.”
The biggest reason Dooley gave for his opposition to the pilot was the fiscal responsibility argument.
“The T is breaking,” he said. “We need to fix what’s broken before we start expanding.”
Dooley’s literature says that the line will cost $20 to $30 million.
“I can give you 50, without even breathing hard, places where you can spend $30 million in the MBTA system,” said Dooley.
Both he and Ferguson are also skeptical of the economic development arguments around the line, with Dooley asserting that reverse commutes don’t happen in Massachusetts, although having that option is good for marketing for a business when it is recruiting.
“I think it’s a nice amenity to give while you’re recruiting people,” said Dooley. I think (that) it’s a huge leap for taxpayer money.”
“It seems like some sort of delusion of grandeur to me,” said Ferguson. “People I know that live in Boston want to work in Boston.”
Both men also expressed skepticism that the line wouldn’t eventually extend all the way through Foxboro.
“I think they’re being sold a bill of goods (the people of Foxboro),” said Dooley. “The push will be on to bring it all the way over to Mansfield.”
All that said, Dooley said he does believe that the negative effects of the line can be mitigated, and he would be open to supporting it if The Kraft Group, and not the taxpayers, were funding its creation.
“I don’t blame him for trying to get the taxpayers to do it for free,” said Dooley. “The person who’s going to get rich on this is Bob Kraft.”
In order for the line to be approved, it must first get the blessing of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board. So far, the FMCB has not scheduled a vote on the issue.
The primary for the special election will take place on Sept. 19, while the general election will take place on Oct. 17.
Bera Dunau writes for The Foxboro Reporter and can be reached at 607-644-7836.
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