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In June 2009, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Transportation Reform Law, landmark legislation that established the Healthy Transportation Compact.  The primary goal of the law was to consolidate all transportation agencies in the Commonwealth and reduce duplicative policies, enhance planning initiatives, improve public health outcomes and create a stronger and cleaner transportation system.

The Healthy Transportation Compact is a key component of the law. Co-chaired by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Transportation (MassDOT), the Compact includes the Commissioner of Public Health, MassDOT Highway Administrator, MassDOT Transit Administrator, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development. The Compact facilitates transportation decisions that balance the needs of all transportation users, expand mobility, improve public health, support a cleaner environment and create stronger communities.

The law gave the Healthy Transportation Compact a directive to establish methods to determine the effect of transportation projects on public health and vulnerable populations through the conduct of health impact assessments (HIAs). To get a better sense of how HIAs could improve transportation planning, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) conducted a pilot HIA in Somerville referred to as “Grounding McGrath.”

The Grounding McGrath Transportation Study aimed to determine the future of the Route 28 corridor.  At the onset of the study, MassDOT indicated that the size of the investment necessary to restore the highway provided an opportunity to evaluate the feasibility, benefits, impacts, and costs of removing at least a portion of the elevated structure on Route 28/McGrath Highway.  DPH studied the primary influences on health that will be affected by this transportation project, including: exposure to air pollution and noise, and lack of green space; current barriers to physical activity due to lack of sidewalks and the current transportation infrastructure, impeded mobility and access to neighborhoods located east and west of the highway; pedestrian safety; lack of access to jobs, goods and services, schools, churches, businesses, and recreational areas (e.g., Charles River) due to current land use and other factors (e.g. decreased property values). The study recommended implementation of mitigation measures to reduce exposure to traffic related air pollutants in tandem with de-elevation of the highway structure, such as locating sidewalks and bike paths further away from the roadway, installation of barriers, and the planting of trees with broad leaves to capture particulate matter associated with traffic related air pollutants.

To further the goals of considering health impacts in transportation, an Advisory Council to the Health Transportation Compact was established in March 2014 to help guide and promote the activities of the Compact. Members include representatives from the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the fields of public health, transportation, the environment, and economic development. A list of members can be found here.  Through the Compact and its Advisory Council, the Commonwealth will develop criteria for the use of HIAs as a tool for planners, transportation administrators, and developers to integrate public health considerations into the planning of large infrastructure projects.

HIAs are particularly effective for transportation planning projects, as these projects often have health implications that traditionally have not been considered in project planning (e.g. the impact that a highway expansion may have on respiratory health of residents who live nearby).  With improvements in the use of environmental public health tracking data and the consolidation of agency efforts, the effects of new transportation infrastructure or facilities can be better anticipated.

Initiating public-private partnerships that support healthy transportation with private and nonprofit institutions is a critical step in improving public health.  Considering health impacts while investing in transportation and infrastructure will allow for better planning and coordination across all state agencies, improving health outcomes while reducing inefficiency.

In addition to HIA’s, the 2009 transportation reform law charges the Compact with:

  • Promoting inter-agency cooperation to implement state and federal policies and programs that support healthy transportation
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving access to services for persons with mobility limitations and increasing opportunities for physical activity
  • Increasing bicycle and pedestrian travel and facilitating implementation of the Bay State Greenway Network
  • Working with the Massachusetts Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board (MABPAB) to effectively implement a policy of complete streets for all users, consistent with the current edition of the Project and Development Guide
  • Expanding service offerings for the Safe Streets to Schools program
  • Initiating public-private partnerships that support healthy transportation with private and nonprofit institutions
  • Establishing an advisory council with private and nonprofit advocacy
  • Developing goals for the Compact and measuring progress towards these goals

Written By:


Associate Commissioner and Director of the Bureau of Environmental Health.

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