An Acela train at Boston’s South Station. The proposed $2.1 billion North-South Rail Link project would construct a pair of rail tunnels, each about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long, that would not only connect North Station and South Station, but also improve efficiency, mobility, and capacity throughout Massachusetts, New England, and the Northeast Corridor, according to its proponents.

A ULI panel of real estate and land use professionals convened in Boston last fall has identified key priorities to guide future real estate development that could be catalyzed by a proposed underground rail line linking two major transit hubs—North Station and South Station—and unifying two currently separate commuter rail systems.

The priorities identified by the panel include:

  • strengthening links between housing and job centers;
  • preserving high-value land in the urban core for real estate development;
  • increasing social equity by building affordable housing at transit nodes and improving rail and mobility access for underserved communities;
  • developing transit-oriented-development area plans for stations along all commuter rail and “T” subway lines; and
  • incorporating climate resilience into future investments in response to Boston’s proximity to the coast and threats from sea-level rise.

The panel, convened through ULI’s Advisory Services program, was composed of nationally known land use professionals representing all aspects of urban development and design. Panelists emphasized that while Boston’s recent unprecedented job growth has unleashed a boom in commercial development, the region’s housing supply has not kept pace, creating an affordability crisis and enclaves of extreme wealth and poverty. The proposed North–South Rail Link, which will lead to a unified and expanded commuter rail system for Greater Boston, has the potential to meet current and future housing demand, address income inequality, and foster the economic competitiveness of the region, panel members said.

“Boston’s commuter rail and transit system is a unique asset that offers the region a strategic advantage over other metropolitan areas, both nationally and globally,” said ULI leader and panel chairman Marilee Utter, president of Citiventure Associates in Denver. “Yet, the region’s ability to maintain its quality of life and compete globally is seriously at risk if it does not take a comprehensive approach to a unified rail system that leverages the tools of real estate development, public/private partnerships, and transit-oriented development to achieve these goals.”

The panel, which visited Boston in October 2017, was sponsored by the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership in collaboration with the city of Boston, several communities in the greater Boston region, and U.S. Representative Seth Moulton. The group analyzed local market conditions and the implications for real estate on several sites that would be transformed by the proposed North–South Rail Link, including the U.S. Postal Services Fort Point Station, Widett Circle, and a proposed expansion of South Station.

In drafting its recommendations, the panel considered such factors as optimal use for these sites, connections to adjacent neighborhoods and nearby edge cities and towns, and alignment with Boston’s goals and vision for future growth. During its weeklong engagement, panelists toured the sites and spent two full days interviewing dozens of stakeholders from the public and private sectors.

In addition to Utter, panelists were Rick Krochalis, commissioner, Seattle Design Commission, Seattle; Robert Ravelli, director, Contemporary Solutions, London; Michael Reynolds, principal, the Concord Group, Newport Beach, California; Stan Wall, partner, HR&A Advisors, Washington, D.C.; Theresa Ward, deputy county executive/commissioner, Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, Hauppauge, New York; Mary Campbell, associate vice chancellor for real estate, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri; and Stephen Whitehouse, partner at Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners, New York, New York.