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CommonWealth - Boston Chamber Calls for Road, Transit Revenues

March 23, 2018

Warning that congestion in and around Boston is bringing the city to a standstill, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday called on state policymakers to come up with a long-term, reliable revenue source for building road and public transit infrastructure.

“Rather than ad-hoc fare and gas tax increases, the state should develop a long-range plan to fund investments in transportation infrastructure,” the chamber said in a policy brief. The brief said it would be a mistake to rely on the proposed millionaire tax, which, even if it passes, would be subject to volatility. Instead, the chamber backed unspecified user fees with the revenue dedicated exclusively for transportation.

The policy brief portrayed the region’s congestion problem in stark terms. “The demand exceeds the capacity of the current road system, and that problem is exacerbated by an unreliable and underdeveloped public transportation system that forces people into cars. The result: gridlock on area roads and a threat to the region’s continued and future economic success.”

The chamber said metro Boston added more than 500,000 car commuters over the last 35 years, even as the region’s population grew by only 29 percent. As a result, the average number of hours drivers spend in congestion annually has grown from 31 to 60. The problem is likely to worsen, as the size of the Greater Boston labor force is expected to increase by 175,000 by 2040.

The report noted that 13 percent of Greater Boston residents use public transit, a much higher percentage than the national average of 5 percent. But at the same time three-quarters of the region’s workers rely on a car for their daily commute, and 90 percent drive alone.

Jim Rooney, the chamber’s president, said use of public transit needs to go up. “The most effective way to relieve congestion is through more public transit ridership,” he said in a statement. “To do that we need a reliable transit system that maximizes existing capacity, strategic expansion, and a long-range comprehensive plan for the region’s entire transportation infrastructure.”

The chamber’s policy brief follows on the heels of other studies warning about rising congestion in and around Boston and the need for more revenues for transportation infrastructure. Senate President Harriette Chandler called for additional revenue earlier this week. And Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the panel’s members may begin discussing revenue options later this year.

Gov. Charlie Baker has not embraced the need for new revenues, suggesting the T can manage existing resources more efficiently and effectively. He has also noted that major improvements at the T – new Red and Orange Line cars, for example – are just a few years away. The governor in February appointed a commission to study the future of transportation, but officials say the group won’t be looking at how to pay for the infrastructure needed to make that future possible.

Read this article on CommonWealthMagazine.org.