Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Transportation--Not Yet an Emergency

Our Speaker of the House, Salvatore F DiMasi, has an OpEd in today's Boston Globe, in which he states that the problem is so vast and complex that it "could be solved only by breaking the traditional political mold." Then he goes on to sticking with the current mold.

The OpEd has a nice graphic next to it, with cars, minivans, taxis and buses falling off a cliff and getting all jumbled up. Sometimes I feel like we have been jumbled up by the legislature.

The problem with Speaker DeMasi's idea is that it is about reshuffling the transportation organizational boxes and cutting pensions. It is not about what is behind our transportation situation.

There are short range actions that need to be taken. But, there are also long term actions that need to be taken. The time for using the excuse about roads following the cow paths of centuries ago is now past.

SHORT TERM

We have a crumbling infrastructure and a huge debt. Thing will not be helped by the fact that the Commonwealth's Secretary of Transportation, Bernard Cohen, just tendered his resignation. Planning requires a certain degree of continuity. Changing masters means new ideas and new imprints. That delays planning.

For sure taxes are going to have to go up to pay down the bills. It is unlikely that in this Commonwealth, at this time, we are going to find the money elsewhere. We are talking billions.

I favor a gas tax, but one where those earning less than the median wage get it rebated. The fact is that people making less than the median wage have to get to work and those driving cars are likely to live further from work than those making above the median wage. The mechanism for the rebate should not be complicated or it becomes a tax in its own right. Thus, there will be some inequity. Squeezing out the last ounce of inequity will mean that the system is complicated and that will create an inequity all of its own. I realize that with all the competing interests on Beacon Hill it will be difficult to keep it simple, but the motto should be KISS--keep it simple, stupid.

Why not tolls, especially at the borders?
  • Tolls cost money to collect.
  • Tolls slow traffic (and that increases pollution).
  • Tolls make you believe you are taxing those who live elsewhere, but use our road. In fact, tolls at the border are just an additional tax on folks who don't live here but already pay income tax for the privilege of working here.
When we think about the Turnpike and the Big Dig we need to remember that any improvement ripples out to help traffic across the region. The Turnpike means that traffic on Route 20 is less than it might otherwise be.

LONG TERM

The fact that the mixing bowl at I-93 and I-95 is a mess is not about cars. It is about jobs and housing. Transportation is merely the blood flow.

Back, before I was born, street cars were the thing and they worked. They worked because of the relationship between where people lived and where they worked. That relationship changed. I have lived in Lowell 14 years and a little bit and have worked for the same company, but in Wilmington, Andover, Sudbury and then again in Andover. That meant commuting and it meant commuting by auto.

Down at our Andover facility, near I-93 Exits 42 and 42, there are a number of major employers, including Raytheon and the IRS. While the LRTC has a route that goes past the Raytheon Andover facility and goes as far as the IRS, it does not drive by the DRC Andover facility. Thus, the people I work with drive to work.

Another problem we face is that work is not for a lifetime. In my Fathers time people tended to stay with the same firm until retirement. That is no longer the case. I am unusual for having worked for only two employers--the Air Force and DRC. Such is not the case anymore.

So, the average worker needs to consider that he or she is going to work for a variety of firms and in a variety of locations, some of which will not be accessible by public transportation.

Then there is the question of where to live. For many in Boston, attempting to upgrade from what they may see as less desirable housing to more desirable, there is the need to leapfrog the people who have already moved to the suburbs. Those places are taken and expensive. And the exurbs are populated, per the dictionary, by the affluent. So, this new group of people are finding themselves out beyond where the post-World War II infrastructure exists. For people working jobs in Eastern Massachusetts their homes may be in New Hampshire.

REALLY LONG TERM

We are going to run out of oil at some point, probably within 100 years. That impacts my great-grandchildren--and maybe your grandchildren. We need to be asking about what our transportation will be like in 100 years. When we ask that we need to ask about land use and zoning. What will industry be like in 100 years? Will there be any manufacturing? Will there be any need to go to the office? I would like to think that someone in State Government is thinking about this. But, then, there are a lot of things I would like and am not going to get in this lifetime.

CONCLUSION

If Mr DiMasi wishes to break the mold he is going to have to think about a whole lot more than the Commonwealth's transportation organizational chart. And, he is correct in saying we are going to have to break the mold to fix this problem.

Regards -- Cliff

1 comment:

Ron Smits said...

Cliff,

I agree!

Ron