This article originally appeared in the online CommonWealth Magazine.
The below version includes post-election updated information.
However, many aspects of the Commonwealth’s transportation system have already approached capacity constraints with increasing delays on congested highways and transit systems. At the same time, demand has increased and is predicted to continue over the coming years with no major increases in capacity coming soon. Without additional investments in our infrastructure, further declining services, increased travel times, and a degraded environment will be the future of the Massachusetts transportation system.
In 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation outlined the investments needed to stabilize today’s transportation system and proposed designing a system for the 21st century. Working together, the Massachusetts Legislature and the Patrick administration created and provided funding for a transportation plan that responded to years of deferred maintenance, underfunded transit operating costs, and delayed mass transit and regional transportation improvements. The funding focused primarily on bringing the Commonwealth’s existing transportation infrastructure into a state of good repair.
Unfortunately, the funding that was put in place fell short of what is needed to truly meet the existing and future transportation needs of the Commonwealth’s residents and businesses. What has been missing from the conversation of late is visionary thinking and a more expansive understanding of why investments in transportation are so important to the future of our state. With one of the highest housing costs in the nation, a solid transportation network that can expand access to a larger and more affordable housing market is critical to the success of our economic development centers.
Across the country – from the Research Triangle in North Carolina to the Texas Medical Center in Houston – state governments and private industry are investing in systems and incentives designed to replicate the Commonwealth’s innovation economy. Though Massachusetts has strengths in higher education, strong academic medical centers, and a historic commitment to innovative technologies, transit and access are weak links and a potential liability for recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce – and the companies that create those jobs.
As Governor-elect Baker begins to outline the issues that will be critical for the next four years, we assert that a top priority should be the establishment of a new long-range statewide visioning and planning effort for transportation. This will require strong leadership to take the bold steps necessary to establish a vision and make it a reality. To successfully implement such an initiative, we’d propose a few guidelines:
• Connectivity is key: With several strong innovation, life science, and health care clusters that are major economic engines for Massachusetts, creating a reliable network of roads and transit is necessary for improving the flow of ideas and people.
• Out-of-the-box thinking is vital: Aligning transportation programs with energy and environmental goals, focusing on seamless connections between air and rail, bus and subway, and making transportation information an integral part of our hand-held knowledge system are all planning efforts that can begin early in a governor’s term and be implemented over the next decades.
• Embracing multiple modes of transportation and access is essential: A 21st century statewide plan must include not only roads, bridges, and public transit, but also bicycle and pedestrian needs, as well as enhanced information sharing through technology.
• Public private partnerships can extend the reach: Innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors must be part of a long-term plan that addresses the needs of businesses and residents alike.