By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE | The New York Times
BOSTON — Later this spring, Bostonians eager to flee to Cape Cod for the weekend will have an option other than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 70 miles and fuming along with everyone else.
Starting May 24, they can hop a train to Hyannis, where regional buses, ferries and rental cars will await to whisk them out to the beaches, islands and wind-swept dunes.
The train, the first passenger service to the cape since 1995, is one small piece of a major $13 billion transportation overhaul envisioned by Gov. Deval Patrick. That overhaul is aimed chiefly at repairing and upgrading worn-out bridges, roads and commuter lines in Massachusetts, but about 20 percent of it would go toward reviving train service to the cape and elsewhere in the state.
Mr. Patrick said that upgrading these in-state routes would spur economic development. It would also provide important links for Amtrak’s long-range plans to establish high-speed train service throughout New England.
The package is the most sweeping and future-oriented of Mr. Patrick’s tenure. But it faces some high hurdles. It would require a major tax increase. And it faces a skeptical public still recovering from what people here call the Big Dig hangover — the multibillion-dollar debt from the nation’s most expensive highway project.
Mr. Patrick, a Democrat, had nothing to do with the Big Dig but the project deferred investments that he says should have been made in aging infrastructure and increased repair costs that are necessary now.
“The plan is ambitious,” said Stephanie Pollack, a transportation specialist at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University. “And it’s depressing that this is considered ambitious when most of the money is going to fixing what we have now.”
But, she said, “this is probably the first time in decades that Massachusetts has stepped back and said, ‘Here’s what we need to do for the next quarter century.’ ”
In addition to service to the cape, Mr. Patrick has proposed reviving service from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford as well as from the Berkshires to the Connecticut border to enable future service to New York City. He has proposed extending service to Medford. He has also called for an $850 million expansion of the number of tracks at Boston’s South Station to accommodate more commuter lines and longer-distance Amtrak trains. The station now is a major bottleneck that causes serious delays.
Amtrak’s plans for high-speed rail include service from Portland, Me., to New York City along an inland route through Springfield, Mass., and one between Boston and New York that would cut travel time to 90 minutes from the current three hours and 40 minutes.
To pay for his transportation package, as well as some new education programs, Mr. Patrick has proposed $1.9 billion in new taxes, one of the biggest levies Massachusetts has seen in a generation. He would raise the state income tax to 6.25 percent from 5.25 percent and lower the state sales tax to 4.5 percent from 6.25 percent. Residents who make more than $102,000 a year would shoulder most of the burden.
Mr. Patrick, who is not seeking re-election in 2014, is spending much of his political capital trying to convince both citizens and legislators that “high-impact” transportation projects can pay for themselves.
For example, the governor’s administration says, the South Coast rail line to Fall River and New Bedford would cost $1.8 billion, but it would create 3,800 jobs and generate $500 million a year in economic growth.
“The public will pay more if they see their sacrifice is actually going to net them a specific good,” said Richard A. Davey, the state’s transportation secretary, who is conducting an aggressive campaign to help sell the governor’s package. It includes a Web site that allows residents to see exactly what the spending would mean in their localities.
But the tax proposal has drawn ridicule from Republicans and a cool reception from the legislature, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. The speaker of the House, Robert A. DeLeo, wants to downsize the governor’s wish list, which is leading to intense negotiations over which parts of the package might be cut. At the same time, Mayor Will Flanagan of Fall River, for example, says he will hold the governor to his promise to veto the entire package if South Coast rail is dropped.
The proposal comes as passenger trains, particularly on routes under 400 miles, are rebounding across much of the country and proving a boon to economic development.
“American passenger rail is in the midst of a renaissance,” said a new report from the Brookings Institution, which attributed the increase in part to partnerships between Amtrak and the federal and state governments.
One of the most successful of those partnerships is the Downeaster, which has been running the 100-plus miles between Boston and Portland since 2001 and was extended up the Maine coast to Brunswick in November. Massachusetts paid for track upgrades within its borders, but Maine pays for the train and Amtrak runs it.
Ridership on the Downeaster, which serves lobster rolls and clam chowder in its cafe car, has climbed steadily. Its success has allowed it to increase the number of round trips and speed up travel time while spurring economic development along the way.
“The value we get out of it is tremendous,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the Downeaster. She said hundreds of new housing units had been built close to the train stations, and old mills had been transformed into office and retail space.
“There is $300 million in development ongoing,” she said.
Such regional trains are catching on in some unlikely places.
In Virginia, the legislature last month approved tax increases proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, to pay for a transportation package that would, among other things, help restore in-state passenger train service.
In New Hampshire, a black hole in New England’s passenger train network, gains by Democrats have resulted in support for study of a Capitol Corridor train between Boston and Concord.
Perhaps the most ambitious state rail project in the country is the planned 520-mile bullet train in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco, though projected cost estimates have run as high as $100 billion.
In Massachusetts, the train to the cape, called the CapeFlyer, will cost a modest $21 million over five years. It is able to start Memorial Day weekend — before legislative action on the governor’s package — because it is a pilot project that extends a commuter line, so the tracks and train cars already exist. The service will be limited to weekends, which is when car traffic piles up.
“We only need to carry 700 folks a weekend to break even,” said Thomas S. Cahir, administrator of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, which will operate the Flyer. “We anticipate we will exceed that.”
Considering that 250,000 people drive on and off the cape every weekend, the train might reduce traffic by less than one percent.
Nonetheless, said Julie Quintero-Schulz, the transit authority’s mobility manager, “we’re trying to provide an alternative service to lessen the traffic congestion.”
Though the Flyer’s impact might be minimal, any early success could help the governor build momentum for his proposal as he and the legislature settle in for some hard bargaining.
NECN.com | January 23, 2013
(NECN) – Wednesday morning’s Green Line fire wasn’t just an inconvenience for MBTA riders – it was also an opportunity for Mass. Governor Deval Patrick to make a point about his new budget.
The budget includes more than $1 billion in new transportation spending, some of which would be used to upgrade the antiquated MBTA system.
The Governor’s transportation plan comes at an average cost of $1 billion more a year in taxes and fees. It includes big-ticket projects, such as a $1.8 billion commuter rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford known as the South Coast Rail.
James Stergios and Stephanie Pollack have been combing through the Governor’s transportation plan with professional eyes.
Stergios is the executive director of the Pioneer Institute, and Pollack is the associate director at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, which is part of the Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition.
Watch the attached video for the complete discussion.
By Eric Moskowitz | The Boston Globe | January 4, 2013
Governor Deval Patrick said Friday that he will unveil a proposal later this month to raise the necessary money through taxes or fees to fix the state’s financially beleaguered transportation network.
Patrick declined to say how he would raise the money or how much he would seek. Past reports have identified an annual gap of roughly $1 billion between what the system needs and what the state raises and spends.
But his comments add to a growing sense of inevitability on Beacon Hill that residents will be asked to pay more to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure and confront years of red ink.
Legislative leaders who previously embraced a policy of “reform before revenue” appear to be shifting from asking whether more money is needed to asking how to raise that money and where to spend it.
Speaking to reporters Thursday and again Friday, Patrick did not use the word “taxes” when he spoke of financing options but was steadfast about the need for revenue. He framed the issue around invigorating the economy and enhancing mobility statewide, not taxing and spending.
“I’ve not started with where the revenue ought to come from,” Patrick said, explaining that the transportation financing plan that the Legislature called for by Jan. 7 would be delayed a week. “I’ve started from the perspective of what is the transportation system that we need to be a 21st century economy and how does that touch every corner of the Commonwealth.”
Lawmakers called for the plan last June while approving emergency funding to help the MBTA balance its budget this fiscal year and avoid massive service cuts and even larger fare increases than the ones that took effect last summer.
That plan will detail how much money is needed to end structural deficits plaguing highway and transit operations. For years, annual expenses — for asphalt and diesel fuel, employee health insurance, and electricity — have risen faster than the state’s five sources for funding transportation: the gas tax, transit fares, highway tolls, Registry of Motor Vehicles fees, and a share of the sales tax.
The plan is also expected to spell out how much it would cost to address a vast maintenance backlog and fund strategic expansion projects. Those costs will be coupled with what Patrick called a “menu of ideas” for raising money, whether through existing sources or new taxes or fees. His recommendations will follow in his statewide budget proposal.
But after being briefed on the report, Patrick asked the team to put in another week to spell out more fully how it would benefit residents and businesses from the Berkshires to the Cape, whether they rely on roads or rails, waterways or airports.
“The reason I sent them back is not because we were quarreling over what the sources [of money] ought to be,” Patrick added, “but rather to make sure we are focusing on the economic growth opportunities in every corner of the Commonwealth.”
Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo placed transportation near the top of their agendas, addressing lawmakers at the start of the new session this week.
Neither said taxes, and each emphasized vigilance in pursuing cost-saving measures. But DeLeo acknowledged the need “to make investments” to ensure that transportation statewide “will be safe and will be state-of-the-art.”
Murray addressed “a daunting long-term need to update our infrastructure systems,” and in noting reforms imposed over the past four years, sent a signal many interpreted as acknowledging the need for revenues, as well.
“The positive news is that the governor, Senate president, and House speaker have all stated publicly that transportation funding is a priority,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a member of a bipartisan commission that issued a pair of influential reports on the transportation-funding crisis in 2007. “[But] there is likely to be a very contentious debate about how much new revenue to raise, by what means, and how.”
Part of the debate will be over whether the money should come from transportation sources, like gas taxes or tolls, and be locked in for transportation spending, or whether transportation should be supported from general funds and a broader source like the income tax.
“I think there’s greater public acceptance when you look at revenue measures that are related to users of the transportation system,” such as tolls, fares, and fees for driving and riding transit, said Representative William M. Straus, who was House chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee last session and is expected to be renamed.
Straus, who supports substantial investment, providing it reaches statewide, said the alternative is to “freeze our transportation system in time and declare ourselves something like a modern Old Sturbridge Village.”
But the debate this year will be challenging, given general reluctance to raise taxes, as well as disagreements over how to raise and spend them.
“I wouldn’t take anything as a foregone conclusion,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.
Some advocates are calling instead for raising the income tax rate back to 5.95 percent, spreading the money not just to transportation but to education and other priorities.
“We’re interested in an overall solution that would actually make the system more fair,” said Andi Mullin, director of a coalition of labor unions and others known as the Campaign for Our Communities, calling the gas tax regressive because it has a greater impact on lower-income drivers.
If a billion-dollar annual transportation shortfall seems staggering to the public, it surprises none of the analysts who have studied the issue for years.
Though MBTA riders are accustomed to waiting for 40-year-old subway cars and though night and weekend bus service is rare in most regions beyond Greater Boston, drivers have been shielded from the crisis.
Heavy borrowing has helped the state address the worst highway and bridge problems, though without realistic payment plans. Even basic maintenance and payroll has been substantially funded with borrowing since the 1990s.
“We basically charged everything to a credit card, with no idea how we were going to pay anything more than the minimum,” said Stephanie Pollack, associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and an adviser on Patrick’s transition team after his first election.
The causes include resistance to raising tolls and gas taxes, disappointing sales tax receipts through multiple recessions and a shift toward online shopping, and the sleight-of-hand employed to finance the Big Dig after the federal government capped reimbursement of the escalating costs.
In 2007, the Transportation Finance Commission identified a $15 billion to $19 billion gap over 20 years between projected transportation revenues and the cost of operating and repairing the system, which Patrick’s plan will revisit. The commission proposed 22 changes to save $2.5 billion; the rest, it said, required taxes or fees.
But when Patrick sought to raise the gas tax, lawmakers called for reform first. In 2009 they merged the Turnpike Authority, MassHighway, and other agencies into one Department of Transportation, saving on shared expenses such as plowing and by refinancing bad debt.
They moved MassDOT employees into the state’s lower-cost Group Insurance Commission, and for new MBTA workers ended the policy allowing them to retire with a full pension after just 23 years. And the Patrick administration pushed for civilian flaggers instead of costlier police details.
That complemented ongoing work to streamline the T, once lampooned for bloat but now competitive with peers when measuring operating expense per passenger and mile. It provides more service with fewer employees and generates more from advertising and other internal sources than a decade ago.
“We can continue to reduce costs, but we can’t do what the public has asked of us, rightfully so, with reform alone,” Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said.
The 2007 commission reports were full of dire and urgent warnings. The need for revenue remains the same, even if it is a tall legislative order, said Stephen J. Silveira, the Republican lobbyist who chaired the commission.
Raising taxes to provide necessary services never won anyone an award, he said. “This is just about people doing the right thing.”
By Eric Moskowitz | The Boston Globe | July 25, 2012
Doug Taylor used to get to work the way most Americans do, driving alone. Then he switched jobs to one of the many Kendall Square companies that offer financial incentives for employees to leave their cars at home. After trying the commuter rail, the 48-year-old Medford resident soon discovered he could pocket even more by biking.
Though Taylor had not owned a bicycle since high school, he now pedals 12 miles most days, taking the T occasionally, driving rarely.
“I enjoy the freedom of doing it and the exercise,” said Taylor, associate director since January of an economic research group at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals. “Between riding the bike and the amount of walking I’ve done to and from [the T], I’ve actually lost 12 pounds.”
Taylor is part of a set of statistics so surprising it looks like a mistake. Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.
Although more commuters are churning in and out of Kendall each day, many more than ever are going by T, bike, car pool, or foot.
“As someone who has actually lived and worked here all that time, I can tell you, it’s true,” said Tim Rowe, founder and chief executive of the Cambridge Innovation Center and president of the Kendall Square Association.
Consider One Broadway, where the innovation center spans seven floors. In 2000, it had just one simple bike rack. Now, it has an electronically locked indoor cage and three indoor racks; outside, the city added sidewalk locking posts and reclaimed automobile parking for on-street bike racks, all of which are often full.
The trend has challenged longtime assumptions by developers and neighborhood advocates about the amount of parking and traffic a new building needs and generates.
“When you look at what’s happened with traffic, it has not been the scary scenario that people feared,” said Assistant City Manager Brian P. Murphy, Cambridge’s community development director.
Part of the credit goes to broad trends: higher gas prices; the growing popularity of biking; the increasing number of professionals, especially in Kendall’s “knowledge economy,” who want to live in urban areas and do not need to drive to work.
But the shift from driving in Kendall Square is about more than the luck of location and transit access. Since 1998, the city has required commercial and institutional developers who add parking spaces to actively discourage people from using them. The policy is supported by statistical targets and annual monitoring, tools that have made Cambridge’s Parking and Transportation Demand Management Ordinance not just a pie-in-the-sky resolution but a case study examined by local and national planners.
In Cambridge, any developer who builds or expands a garage or lot and winds up with at least five parking spaces must pick from an array of options to encourage greener transportation, from subsidizing MBTA passes, charging employees to park, and underwriting a shuttle that supplements the T, to offering bike tune-up days, building locker rooms and showers, and guaranteeing an emergency ride for those suddenly needing a car.
Developers with at least 20 spaces must meet city-set goals aimed at reducing the percentage of workers who drive.
At Ironwood, where the target is 50 percent, employees get $100 a month toward commuting costs. If they drive, they can apply it to the $220 a month they pay to park. If they take the T, they can spend it pretax on passes ordered through the company.
They can also board the EZRide, a bus paid for by employers and workers that connects Cambridgeport, Kendall, Lechmere, and North Station, eliminating indirect subway connections for commuter rail riders. It has grown from 200 to 2,500 daily riders since 2002.
And the employees keep whatever remains of their $100-a-month subsidy, a sum that adds up for cyclists like Taylor. Those choices helped Ironwood reduce its drive-alone employees to 41 percent last year, down from 50 percent in 2007.
When Novartis moved into the renovated Necco candy factory in 2004, the city set its driving target at 44 percent, meaning the company had to persuade more than half its workers to use other modes of transportation. For those who drove, the pharmaceutical giant built a 350-space garage, but planned to use stackers to park more in double-decker fashion, said Susanne Rasmussen, Cambridge’s director of environmental and transportation planning. Even with 1,200-plus employees there, Novartis, which provides up to $125 a month toward T passes but charges $250 for parking, has never needed the stackers. Just 33 percent of employees drove alone last year.
Though the city can impose fines and even shut down parking at workplaces that fail to comply, it has never needed those tools and only rarely must apply pressure to ensure compliance, said Stephanie Groll, manager of the Cambridge program.
Green-commuting benefits have become woven into the workplace culture of Kendall, offered even by companies not covered by the ordinance.
Companies have a vested interest in preserving the qualities that make Kendall attractive to employees, given its emergence as a vibrant, walkable neighborhood with amenities, said Stephanie Pollack, associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.
“If you work on [Route] 128, you have to get in the car to go get something to eat or go to the gym, and you don’t do that in Kendall,” Pollack said.
With high demand to locate in Kendall, the next test will be whether Cambridge can turn up the dial on the ordinance to invite even more development without clogging traffic.
The power may be out of Cambridge’s hands. The MBTA’s financial woes limit its ability to meet bus demand in Kendall and to invest in upgrades to an antiquated Red Line signal system that limits the frequency of subway trains.
So a new kind of congestion — waiting for the T, jostling for position in bike lanes — is supplanting traffic worries, which officials call a good problem to have.
At the Broad Institute, where 24 percent of employees drove alone last year, scientist and veteran cyclist Mauricio Carneiro, 32, of Charlestown said he is having a harder time finding bike parking. And as more people toggle between the T and bicycling, depending on the weather, Carneiro is navigating among newcomers.
“In the summer, we’ll get really crowded with bikes,” said Carneiro, whose benefits include $20 a month to spend on bicycle expenses such as inner tubes and helmets. But he wouldn’t think of driving.
“It’s my wake-up procedure,” he said, “getting on the bike.”
Students Against T Cuts
MBTA Public Transportation
February 28th 6-7:30pm
325 Richards Hall
At the beginning of the year, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced two proposals to deal with an impending $185 million budge deficit for the next fiscal year. Organizers for Students Against T Cuts reached out to the Northeastern University School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs and the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy to hold this teach-in to better outline the background of the MBTA’s financial situation, the engineering behind our physical system, innovative solutions, and the impact of public transportation on the Greater Boston community.
Associate Director of Research, Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy
Professor of Practice, School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs
Professor, College of Engineering
Transportation Policy Analyst, MBTA Advisory Board
Director of Innovation, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority