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Paolino Charges: Airport Train Station a $267 Million ‘Boondoggle’

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

 

The former head of economic development for the state is calling the new $267 million train station at T.F. Green Airport a “boondoggle” after learning that Amtrak would not be making stops there.

“It’s a boondoggle,” said Joe Paolino, who served as executive director for the state Economic Development Corporation from 1991 to 1994 and was involved in the construction of the airport. “I think the project is an economic development white elephant. I say this as a former head of economic development. I say this as a former mayor of Providence and I say this as a businessman.”

There is no study of how much economic activity the new facility alone will generate, according to Kevin Dillon, the President and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, but he said a 2006 study showed the airport pumps $2 billion into the region. “The InterLink is one key piece of infrastructure that can continue to make the airport successful,” he said.

Amtrak Not Going to New Station

An official at the Department of Transportation confirmed that Amtrak would not be stopping at the new $267 million station, known as the InterLink, when it opens on Oct. 27. In the meantime, only MBTA commuter trains will be stopping at InterLink, beginning the week of Thanksgiving. The MBTA will offer service from the airport to Providence and, from there, to Boston, according to Jim Eng, a civil engineer at the DOT.

“Amtrak isn’t going to be stopping there—I think that’s going to be shocking to people,” Paolino said.

Dillon said InterLink would help attract European carriers. He said one European-based company, Ryan Air, has already expressed an interest in making transatlantic flights to TF Green and has cited the InterLink as one of the main reasons they would come to Rhode Island. He said domestic carriers already flying into T.F. Green have told him they see a benefit for their customers as well.

But Paolino is skeptical that commuter service alone—with multiple stops between the airport and Boston and no direct route to New York City—would have much appeal to out-of-state travelers. “If we try to sell that idea to out-of-staters when they come in here, they’re going to laugh at us,” Paolino said.

Train More Convenient Than Taxi?

He further questioned whether the MBTA will be a more convenient way of getting to Providence from the airport. Just walking from the terminal and over the 1,200-foot Skywalk to InterLink will take an estimated six to nine minutes—and that’s not counting the time waiting for a train once someone arrives at the station. Paolino said it would be faster to just take a taxi to Providence.

Dillon said the extended rail service would specifically benefit those Rhode Islanders who don’t have cars. An estimated 250 commuters will be using the MBTA every day to get to and from the airport and Providence, according to Eng.

But for far less than $267 million, Paolino says the state could have invested in a shuttle service from the airport to the train station in Providence, spending the money—nearly half of it federal funds—on making improvements to the airport itself. “It’s a lot of money—it’s a lot of investment for very little return,” Paolino said. “I don’t see the economic development benefit. I don’t see how jobs are going to be created because it’s put there.”

More than a Train Station

Dillon countered that the new facility has already drawn economic development. He said a hotel and restaurant have opened up as a result and he said two other hotel developers have expressed an interest in building in the area.

The current executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, Keith Stokes, also defended the project. “Anytime there's an opportunity to connect intermodal transit there's economic value,” Stokes said. “The new train station will not only provide greater access to the airport but access to the great restaurants, shops and services along Post Road and in Warwick.”

Dillon pointed out that InterLink is much more than just a train station. The facility will house nine rental car offices and, in the future, have bus service. “People have honed in for whatever reason on the rail component and they seem to be making a judgment on the entire complex solely on the rail component,” Dillon said. “You can’t look at this as a $267 million project and say that was for rail. There are other components.”
 

 

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