The Pioneer Institute’s Jim Stergios has one fundamental point exactly right in his opinion article, “Lots of Art, Little Science in Transportation Plan.” In his words: “let’s be clear that we do need new revenue for transportation and infrastructure.” He may also be right about one other thing: my presentation skills in outlining MassDOT’s The Way Forward: A 21st-Century Transportation Plan, are no match for the “magic of Steve Jobs”!
But I believe he misses the mark about the necessity of the proposals outlined in that presentation and our plan’s promise to revitalize our transportation system delivery across the Commonwealth- and jump start our state’s economy and create thousands of jobs in the process.
The facts are that despite assertions to the contrary:
Reform is happening: We have successfully undertaken a multi-year, “full” reform effort in transportation. From the elimination of “23 and out” at the MBTA to transitioning employees into the Group Insurance Commission, tangible reforms have saved taxpayers over $500m to date. And, as we stated in our report, reform is not done. A number of initiatives, from mobile ticketing on the T to introduction of all electronic tolling are underway or coming soon. And, we welcome more ideas on how to reduce our cost structure and improve the customer experience.
More transparency than ever: We have emphasized transparency in our dealings with our customers and provided meaningful information about service delivery and the state of our finances. Indeed, we sought out and specifically briefed the Pioneer Institute as we developed our new metrics and scorecard for your thoughts and advice. The MBTA’s scorecard, the DOT quarterly scorecard and our Accelerated Bridge Program scorecards are all available on our website. The RMV discusses its monthly performance at every MassDOT Board meeting. We held a public accountability meeting in Worcester to discuss the metrics, and have committed to holding such a meeting on a quarterly basis. Granted, this information is spread out, so we are consolidating this information so it is more user friendly.
Transparency goes beyond scorecards though. We have also opened up our MBTA operations center and other facilities to the public and publish weekly online our maintenance activities in the Central Artery and our Tunnels. Most importantly, we’ve engaged our customers directly. In the last year, we’ve held over 100 public meetings and hearings across the state regarding T service/fare hikes, highway and transit project updates or our regular monthly Board meetings where public comment is invited.
Maintain what we have: Our plan prioritizes maintenance of our current transportation system even as we advocate for critical projects statewide that are not the “same old” projects but rather long-discussed, necessary steps to ensure a bright future for our state. Over 70% of the 10 year capital program in the Way Forward Plan is directed to investments in current roads, bridges, airports and rail infrastructure, and purchases new buses, trains and trolleys to replace the decades old fleet at the T and the RTAs. On the operations side, we end the ludicrous practice of borrowing to pay for highway operations, provide much needed debt relief to the MBTA so current operations are maintained and appropriately fund the 15 Regional Transit Authorities for expanded bus service.
And yes, we will invest in targeted expansion that delivers new transportation services from Boston to Springfield, from the Berkshires to the South Coast, all projects long identified as critical to create jobs and economic development for the long-term benefit of the Commonwealth. We fundamentally believe that more mobility options in every corner of the state is key to catalyzing economic activity.
We have also been open about the need to confront the increasing funding gap first identified- with the Pioneer Institute’s acknowledgment- in the 2007 Transportation Finance Commission report that identified a $19 billion gap in needed funds for maintenance of our transportation system over 20 years. We spoke with more than 7,000 members of the public, elected officials, business leaders and transportation stakeholders over the last year in more than 50 meetings across the state and heard their needs and concerns about our roads, our bridges, our buses, trains and bikeways. What we learned is that we have a problem most businesses would love to have – our customers want MORE of our services, not LESS.
The question before us is clear. How do we deliver the improved transportation services our customers demand? The answers are found not in the inadequate steps mentioned by the Pioneer Institute.
Rather than “lots of art, little science,” our 21st-century Plan is thoughtfully constructed and based on facts about transportation we have known for years- about our huge funding gap, our deferred maintenance, our absurd reliance on debt to pay for operations and the need for equitable transportation services in communities across our state.
I look forward to our continuing conversation about the way forward, but the time to act decisively is now.