With recent success in the expansion of North-South rail, in some ways it feels like there is momentum finally building for an East-West line. However, Gov. Charlie Baker seemed to throw some cold water on that last week during the opening of a handicapped-accessible platform at Springfield Union Station, saying that any East-West rail option would be contingent on favorable findings in an ongoing feasibility study.
An insight into what East-West is up against came in the form of a recent column from Boston Globe writer Joan Vennochi, who seemed to believe she had ventured out from the comfort of the metropolis into the wilds of Western Mass. Her piece, ostensibly about a possible solution to Boston’s housing and congestion crisis, identified Western Mass as a possible new “hot neighborhood” of Boston… that is, if anyone from Boston ever wanted to go to Western Mass. It’s clear from the tone of her piece, which reads as if Western Mass were a Somerville-sized community containing Tanglewood, UMass Amherst, and all of Hampden County well within walking distance of one another, that Vennochi doesn’t know much about the area.
Vennochi, who implied that most in Boston would view a trip to our part of the state as a “mercy mission,” came out to Exit 5 on the Pike on the invitation of state Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, a key East-West rail proponent. As Lesser seems to have figured out, she is exactly the type of person our part of the state needs to convince if we’re going to have a good shot at East-West rail. Vennochi quoted Lesser as saying that Western Mass needed “evangelists.”
As off-putting as I found some of Vennochi’s piece, dripping with the “Boston-centric thinking” she advocates dropping, I agreed completely with its central premise — the Eastern and Western parts of this state need to be better connected than they are now. In some ways, the very fact that I found Vennochi’s probably well-meaning article insulting is a case-in-point — Eastern and Western Mass feel disjointed. Meanwhile, they have a lot to offer one another: quality of life on the Western Mass side and economic opportunities in the East.
East-West rail would not solve every problem, but it would create more of a meaningful link, economically and physically among the different parts of the state. For my own part, I use the Pike a lot less since robotic cameras — that investigative reporting has shown have been misused for surveillance — replaced the toll booth operators. Rail offers the promise of a better, more consistent connection, provided that the ticket price is affordable.
East-West rail is something to keep an eye on, and I encourage all interested to attend a public meeting next month on Wednesday, Feb. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. at UMass Center at Springfield, 1500 Main St., Springfield.
A tax update
Last year, David Daley wrote in the Advocate about how tax preparation giants, including H&R Block and Intuit (which owns TurboTax), had used their lobbying power to effectively kill the country’s free file program. By law, those who make less than $66,000 per year should have access to a free tax filing program. However, as ProPublica reported, those free filing programs were hidden from Google and other search engines and very difficult to find.
With tax season approaching, ProPublica last month reported that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has reformed the free file program following the news organization’s reporting. Companies can no longer hide their free products from search engines and the IRS dropped an agreement not to compete with TurboTax. Free tax programs are subject to different requirements, but the program can now easily be found at https://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile. Thanks, investigative reporting! And happy tax filing.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.