Economic Competitiveness Requires Investing in Transportation
Our nation faces significant transportation challenges, including aging infrastructure, years of deferred maintenance, congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and demand for new infrastructure and services. Given the age of much of its infrastructure and the vast resources sucked up by the Big Dig over the past few decades, Massachusetts is one of the states that faces the greatest transportation challenges. In the most recent CNBC survey of business competitiveness across the states, Massachusetts fell to the middle of the pack, largely due to our dismal ranking of 45th in the “infrastructure” category. Our state’s future economic growth and competitiveness depends on having a safe, efficient, and modern transportation system.
In a 2007 report, the Transportation Finance Commission, a non-partisan committee of transportation experts, concluded that Massachusetts is facing a funding gap of $15-19 billion over the next 20 years to properly maintain our roads, bridges, and public transit infrastructure. The Commission also recommended numerous reforms to improve the efficiency and accountability of the state’s transportation agencies.
We all pay a high price for the deficiencies in our transportation system. First, safety is compromised, as we saw with the tragic death of Milena Del Valle, who was crushed by faulty concrete ceiling panels in the I90 connector tunnel in 2006. Second, it is estimated that we spend more than $700 million each year (or an average of $300 per household) on car repairs due to the poor condition of our roads. Third, poorly maintained roads and inadequate public transit contribute to growing traffic congestion, which costs drivers both time and money.
In 2009, the state legislature and Governor Patrick took action with the passage of An Act Modernizing the Transportation Systems of the Commonwealth. This sweeping legislation eliminated the Turnpike Authority, created a consolidated Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), reformed health insurance and pension costs, and made numerous other changes designed to improve the efficiency of transportation operations and the quality of service to the public. These reforms have saved tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, made our transportation agencies more responsive to public needs, and significantly improved overall management of transportation services. One shining example is the award-winning “Fast 14” Project that MassDOT undertook in the summer of 2011 to repair crumbling bridges on I93 in Medford.
The reality, however, is that cost savings alone will not get us anywhere close to addressing the funding gap identified by the Transportation Finance Commission. The legislature has enacted a few stopgap funding measures since 2007 to close current operating deficits and prevent larger fare and toll hikes, but has not made the tough decisions to raise the revenue necessary to provide Massachusetts residents and businesses with a world-class transportation system.
Governor Patrick recently put forward a sweeping plan to start this discussion in earnest. His plan would raise new revenue to fund transportation -- through a tax reform package which includes raising the income tax rate, lowering the sales tax rate, and doubling the personal income tax deduction while eliminating a number of other tax deductions and exemptions -- with approximately 80% of the revenue being used to address current operating and maintenance deficits and 20% of the revenue being invested in expanding transportation services across the Commonwealth.
As the legislature now takes up this challenge, I will be advocating for a final plan that includes the following key elements:
1) Continued reforms that enable MassDOT to deliver high quality transportation services at the lowest possible cost
2) Continued innovations that take advantage of the latest technology to provide better customer service and reduce cost
3) A focus on ensuring safe and well-maintained roads, bridges, public transit, and other transportation infrastructure
4) Investments that are balanced across different modes of transportation, while encouraging greater use of public transit and other green transportation initiatives in order to reduce congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
5) Adequate revenue to meet basic operating, maintenance, debt service and capital needs, plus some carefully targeted service expansions that stimulate economic growth
6) Sustainable financing so that we stop lurching from one transportation crisis and short-term fix to another.
I welcome your feedback on this important topic. Share your thoughts at www.Facebook.com/RepJasonLewis or visit our website at www.RepJasonLewis.com for upcoming Office Hours. You can also reach me at 617 722-2017 or by email at Jason.Lewis@mahouse.gov.
31st Middlesex District – Stoneham and Winchester