Former governor Michael S. Dukakis pleaded with lawmakers yesterday to preserve the possibility of an underground link between North and South stations in Boston, but a key state senator said the project would halt downtown development and hurt suburban transportation upgrades.
At a hearing on legislation preserving the 1-mile right of way, Dukakis warned lawmakers that the two transportation hubs are nearing capacity and that action is needed to prevent development that may make the project, which would create a seamless Northeast Corridor rail line, impossible in the future.
Dukakis warned that increased commuter rail use, combined with expansion projects, will soon lead to ''massive capacity problems" at North and South stations. He told lawmakers the condition of the state's transportation infrastructure is ''frightening."
''We've got a third-world road system in the state," Dukakis said.
Senator Steven Baddour, the Methuen Democrat who is cochairman of the committee, said the project has the potential to ''cannibalize" funding for a series of major highway and commuter rail projects, including the extensions of the Green and Blue subway lines, improved commuter service to Worcester, and proposed commuter rail lines to Fall River, New Bedford, and Millis.
Two weeks ago, Baddour said the project would not be possible without federal funding. But yesterday's hearing coincided with news that Massachusetts would receive a 28 percent funding increase, or $1.17 billion more than it now receives, under a multiyear $295 billion transportation bill passed last night in the US Senate.
Baddour said that everyone supports the rail link conceptually, but that funding is limited. ''It's something that should have been done 20 years ago," he said.
Two weeks ago, Governor Mitt Romney, who did not include the rail link in his long-term transportation plan, said it would aid travelers from Maine to Washington, D.C., but is not something that ''makes sense for Massachusetts."