By Greg Reibman
In the face of a worsening transportation crisis, the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber has joined with two state-wide business coalitions in calling for more government spending to expand public transit and improve the roads.
While the organizations differed in some revenue recommendations, there was across the board agreement that road congestion and inadequate and unreliable public transportation puts the Commonwealth’s prosperity in jeopardy, harms productivity and moral, and poses a serious threat to the environment.
During those meetings we took a deep dive into the complex challenges facing the MBTA, our roadways and our bridges. And we reviewed a wide range of ideas – including increasing the gas tax; raising fees on Uber and Lyft; statewide tolling; congestion pricing; putting a price on the carbon contained in automobile fuels; regional ballot initiatives; and public-private partnerships.
We also spent a lot of time talking about holding our government leaders accountable and making sure projects are properly prioritized and managed.
Our mutually agreed upon goal was to generate the revenue needed to invest in our system-wide transformation while at the same time reducing congestion and carbon emissions.
And with some of the worst traffic in the nation, we agreed that we needed to invest and modernize public transportation.
Whether or not we individually step foot on a bus or train, every resident benefits from the reduced carbon emissions and congestion that having a well maintained, heavily used, transit system creates. It stands to reason that we should all invest in repairing, expanding and finding ways to encourage more public transit use.
The business coalitions’ support for new revenues -- combined with backing from advocacy groups including Transportation for Massachusetts, A Better City and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council – is designed to give lawmakers some cover as they consider higher taxes and fees entering the new year.
But so far, we’ve not been successful.
Hopes that the House leadership would move forward with a transportation funding plan before the end of 2019 never materialized, reportedly due to a lack of consensus. The hope now is that lawmakers will consider legislation that includes new revenue for transportation before the current session ends in July 2020.But the closer we get to the fall election, the less likely it may be that some lawmakers may be willing to stand behind some of the proposed tax and fee increases.
Meanwhile Gov. Charlie Baker has said existing revenues, plus the money from a transportation bond bill and his transportation climate initiative are sufficient -- a view that is not shared by many of the participating business groups in both coalitions.
And so we sit in traffic and on subway platforms, facing a triple threat: The worst congestion in the nation, unreliable public transportation and a climate crisis.
Addressing this crisis will not be cheap.It will require an injection of tens of billions of dollars over the next twenty years and new strategies designed to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles (the largest contributor to greenhouse gas in the state) from our roads.
But the cost of doing nothing is even higher.