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Mayors talk regional solutions to transportation, housing at Chamber event

November 08, 2018

Two of the region’s biggest unsolved problems — transportation and housing — took center stage Thursday morning during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce panel featuring mayors from Lynn, Newton, Framingham and Braintree.

The event at the Marriott Long Wharf came two days after Gov. Charlie Baker easily won a second term, despite criticism from Democratic opponent Jay Gonzalez about the Republican's handling of the region's transportation woes.

“Our members, and the leadership of our board in particular, have overwhelmingly told us that transportation and housing are top public policy priorities, not just for the commonwealth and the Greater Boston area, but for their businesses as well, and for the employees that work in those businesses,” Chamber President Jim Rooney said during the event. “[It’s] very important to them as a means to attract and retain talent as they grow their organizations.”

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said the interconnectedness of the issues is particularly on display in her city of 88,000 people.

“Forty-five thousand people work in Newton, only 5,000 of them live there,” Fuller said. “So we have a big ‘in’ migration, and most people in Newton obviously don’t work in Newton, so there’s the ‘out’ population.”

And with the value of property in Newton rapidly increasing, Fuller said, who can afford to live and work in Newton is changing — which only adds to the city’s transportation problems.

Fuller said there’s not a lot that a suburb like Newton can do on its own to tackle transportation issues, other than to increase funding — something she said her city has done during her tenure.

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer said it took her an hour and a half to commute the 23 miles into Boston on Thursday morning. To date, she said she’s only seen a “Band-Aid approach” to transportation, especially in MetroWest. She noted the commuter rail’s failure to run on Sundays or past 8 p.m.

“We’ve kind of exhausted all of our possibilities in terms of being flexible with transportation," Spicer said. "We have a regional transportation system that is not very robust. It’s much better than it used to be, in all fairness, (but) there’s still some flaws."

The commuter rail does do some things right, said Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee. He pointed out that the system reaches nearly half the state and nearly 75 percent of its population.

But, McGee added, that breadth doesn’t really matter if the system isn't efficient.

“If we can create a system that works in a much more robust, frequent, and efficient way, we would see transformation, and the time is right,” McGee said. “The governor is newly re-elected, he has some really great ideas, there’s new studies going on... It’s timely and it’s important that we make it happen.”

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said there's widespread apprehension about inviting more people into the region without overcrowding schools or worsening traffic. But to him, it’s always going to be worth the risk.

“Let me say this: Traffic is always going to be a challenge," Sullivan said. "But traffic is a signal of a vibrant community. I’d prefer traffic over tumbleweeds.”

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