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Fueling Up for a New Conversation about Transportation Financing in Massachusetts

Since late this summer, Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray have been calling for renewed debate – and an "adult conversation" – about transportation finance in the Commonwealth. Business-as-usual is 1) not sustainable and 2) can only undermine the State's aggressive climate and energy goals. Three recent reports offer rich fodder for that conversation to occur. Lizzi Weyant, Staff Attorney of MASSPIRG breaks them down to their key insights.

Late this summer and into the fall, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray have both been calling for renewed debate about how to fund transportation in the Commonwealth. Business-as-usual approaches have left the State with untenable levels of debt, annual budget shortfalls, and daunting backlogs in maintenance – resulting in steadily eroding safety, quality, and efficiency of all kinds of transportation. In Murray’s words, Massachusetts’ public transit systems, roads, and bridges constitute the “enabling network of our economy.” This makes solving the transportation finance puzzle critical for reviving the State’s economy. It is equally important for the administration given its ambitious climate and energy agenda. This is why Barr and many of its grantees are focused on this issue. Without a sustainable, high-quality transportation system, there is little hope of making real dents in vehicle-related emissions – which are the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions (after buildings) in Massachusetts.

Murray and Patrick are calling for a new conversation between the public and policy makers – one that looks squarely at the scope of the challenges and puts all options on the table for figuring out how to sustainably fund the transportation network citizens want and need. Three recent reports seek to advance that conversation. We asked Lizzi Weyant, Staff Attorney of Barr-grantee MASSPIRG to share the highlights from each report.

Maxed Out: Massachusetts Transportation at a Financing Crossroads,” by the Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition (T4MA) details how the State’s long dependence on borrowed money, coupled with a lack of new revenue to pay off its substantial debt, has left all of the pieces of the Commonwealth’s transportation network unable to fund operations, maintenance, or construction projects. The report builds the case that, without new revenues, pressing transportation needs will go unmet in every part of the State and our aging transit systems, roads, and bridges, and will continue to deteriorate.

Moving Forward with Funding: New Strategies to Support Transportation and Balanced Regional Economic Growth,” a new report by MassInc, points out that the financial situation has particularly affected communities that are served by regional transportation agencies (RTAs). RTAs provide service to some of the state’s most economically disadvantaged residents. “Moving Forward” draws attention to the significant unmet transportation needs in RTA service areas and calls for diversification of the funding base to support the Commonwealth’s transit agencies.

Highlighting the negative impact that reduced transportation funding has on two seemingly disparate populations, a third report, “Common Connections: The Importance of Public Transportation for College Students and Seniors in Massachusetts,” released by MASSPIRG, details the unique benefits that public transportation provides students, seniors, their families, and the Commonwealth as a whole. Together, college students and senior citizens account for more than one out of every five Bay State residents, and account for nearly a quarter of the population served by RTAs.

That these three reports were released within days of each other is no coincidence. Their themes are consistent: a good transportation system, complete with robust public transportation options, is a lifeline for Bay State residents from the Berkshires to the Cape. Investments in our transportation system provide access to jobs and economic opportunity, and they make the Commonwealth a more attractive place to live, work, and play. If we want a 21st century answer to global climate change, economic development, and livability for all, then, as these three reports clearly illustrate, now is the time to tackle the important challenge of transportation finance.

Guest Post by Lizzi Weyant, MASSPIRG

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