SPRINGFIELD — Once the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan becomes law, up next will be an infrastructure package that could include major investments in rail transportation.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat who represents the Berkshires in Congress, said he expects President Joe Biden to sign the modified American Rescue Plan by the end of the week.
While some left-leaning Democrats voiced displeasure at the Senate’s changes to the House version of the plan, Neal sees them as “mainly cosmetic,” he said during a Monday news conference in Springfield. He added that a minimum wage increase, which the Senate shot down as expected, could see a vote in the House as stand-alone legislation, “likely” in two to three weeks.
Through a new round of stimulus payments and extended unemployment benefits and tax credits, the relief plan seeks to help the people hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
Neal, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, sees passenger rail as a key part of that package.
“One of my priorities, and we’re in the midst of planning for it now, is to begin a more formal conversation with the governor of the state over improving rail transportation from Boston to Worcester to Springfield on to Pittsfield,” he said.
State lawmakers want to see the state make a greater commitment to building east-west passenger rail, which many of them have taken to calling “west-east” rail to emphasize the importance of the Pittsfield-to-Springfield stretch. The state allocated $50 million in a transportation bond bill, but the project would require federal investments to meet the $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion price tag.
Neal said he plans to speak with Gov. Charlie Baker about rail “forthwith.” Asked to elaborate, he said, “Immediately … like, Wednesday.”
He added that he hopes a infrastructure deal can be made with some support from Republican lawmakers, although he said even the relief plan has support from about 40 percent of Americans who identify as Republican, according to some polls.
“This might not, at the moment, be bipartisan in Washington, but it’s been pretty bipartisan across the country,” Neal said.
“We’re still hopeful that we’ll pick up a few Republicans tomorrow [when the House votes]. This is going to be their only opportunity if the train leaves the station tomorrow to affirm what their constituents want and need.”