Rick Dimino

Rick Dimino

If Massachusetts wants to maintain its reputation as a great place to live, and as a global leader with a dynamic economy, our transportation infrastructure must improve to keep pace with our growing needs. Heavy congestion on both roadways and transit suggest we are outgrowing our current transportation system and need to adopt strategies to expand and increase transit service and capacity.     

Currently we are underfunding our transportation system in Massachusetts. A Better City and the UMass Donahue Institute recently released an analysis that identified a projected $8.4 billion funding gap over the next 10 years to properly maintain our existing system. Based on current projected funding levels, the state can expect to see an increase in the number of structural deficient bridges, poor quality in roadway pavement and a delayed rate of progress in fixing the existing MBTA transit system.   

This estimate does not include funding necessary to modernize, expand and decarbonize the commonwealths transportation system as called for in the Baker administration’s 2018 Future of Transportation Commission recommendations. Finally, this projected financial gap does not account for any substantive steps to address the commonwealth’s growing traffic congestion problems. With obvious accessibility needs from a growing population and economy, we face difficult decisions today on the quality of the system that we will use for decades to come.      

Certainly, the size of the problem can appear to be insurmountable. However, the first step towards a transportation solution is agreeing on the size of our funding challenge. Then we can design a finance plan for addressing and prioritizing these needs in a fair and equitable manner.   

Building Blocks for Future Success 

Over 10 years ago, Massachusetts faced a similar challenge with transportation finance and we have seen the fruits of a 10-year effort to change our public sector management and bureaucracy.  With the establishment of a Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the creation of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and the implementation of allelectronic tolling, the progress from meaningful reforms is producing real results. On the funding side, the Baker administration has put in place a historic funding plan for the MBTA over the next five years. This includes following through on the Green Line Extension project and the purchases of new vehicles for the Red and Orange lines, but to eliminate the MBTA’s $7.3 billion repair backlog in 15 years, the MBTA must increase its project development and delivery capacity and receive a reliable funding stream.   

Today, we need to move forward to establish a comprehensive transportation finance plan to move beyond its 20th century transportation infrastructure. Transportation is a cornerstone of quality of life and our economy. We need a system that is functional, flexible and equitable, regardless of where people live or what form of transportation they use. 

Broad Approach Needed with Revenue   

Fare increases at the MTBA are only a piecemeal approach to raising revenue for transportation.   We need a larger effort and vision to support smart growth, equity concerns, greenhouse gas reduction and climate resilience.  

It is worth studying the potential for expanding tolling  through the allelectronic tolling system  onto other key corridors throughout the commonwealth and potentially at Massachusetts’ borders with our neighboring states.   

The Baker administration is showing true leadership by partnering with other states on the Transportation and Climate Initiative to address greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, but the timing and amounts of potential new revenue a from this effort is unclear at this time. Congestion pricing strategies should also be on the table to better managing our network of roadways and could be a way to support a robust mass transit system that would options for commuters. We should also reconsider the future of our Commuter Rail system as an enhanced regional and urban rail network. 

Finally, this is not just an issue facing metropolitan Boston or the riders of the MBTA. The entire commonwealth can than prosper if we unlock economic growth and access to affordable housing in gateway cities, particularly in Central and Western Massachusetts, by improving accessibility to these communities through improved mass transit service.   

The state needs an immediate blueprint for both our maintenance needs and funding to build the 21st century system we all deserve. The challenge is real and the funding need is substantial, but now is the time for us to work together to ensure we make progress on improving and expanding our system. Let’s start this legislative session and creating a plan that moves Massachusetts forward toward this essential goal. 

Rick Dimino is president and CEO of A Better City 

Massachusetts Needs a Comprehensive Transportation Finance Plan

by Rick Dimino time to read: 3 min