Forum Highlights Local, State Transportation Issues
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Richard Davey was in Wakefield on Tuesday to make the case for Governor Patrick's transportation proposals.
The state must fund its transportation priorities to ensure economic growth and quality of life in the coming years, local business owners and others were told at a Tuesday morning small business forum in Wakefield.
State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey was at the event, organized by State Senator Katherine Clark and the Wakefield Chamber of Commerce, to make the case for some of the priorities that Governor Deval Patrick laid out in his budget earlier this winter.
"Some have called our plan ambitious... it's actually a bit sad that what we are mostly talking about is investing in our current system," Davey told the audience, going on to say that while "it's never a good time to raise taxes," it's also never a good time to be stuck on a broken down train. In total, the state needs to spend about $9.5 billion over the next 10 years to fully upgrade its transportation infrastructure. "We will pay for it now or we will pay for it later," said Davey, also saying that about 50 bridges statewide currently sit unused because of their decrepit state.
Speaking of trains, at the beginning of the forum, State Senator Tom McGee, chair of the Transportation Committee, noted that some MBTA trains date back to the 1970s, with subway cars even dating back to the 1960s. The state's transportation infrastructure needs are under-funded by about $1 billion, he said. McGee is a Lynn Democrat whose district includes Lynnfield.
"We're facing a huge problem in transportation," said McGee, who further discussed area transportation issues in a January interview with Lynnfield Patch. On Tuesday, McGee cited the need for improvements at the 128/93 interchange as well as repairs to the many cracks and potholes on Route 129. "Why wait until there's a crisis before we focus on how important transportation is?" said McGee.
For his part, Davey noted later in the forum that half of all commuter rail delays involve broken-down locomotives.
Davey acknowledged that the state had learned its lessons from the more lackluster aspects of the Big Dig, and was focusing on cutting costs and improving the customer experience. Some examples he cited were a plan to save $50 million by phasing out toll collectors, an end to the "23 and Out" policy that allowed people to retire after 23 years on the job, and fewer MBTA employees in general in recent years along with expanded service. The Registry of Motor Vehicles website even brings in revenue by selling ads now, he added.
Some upgrades envisioned in the Governor's plan, said Davey, include extending the Green Line service to Somerville and Medford, expanding service at South Station, and expanding service in the New Bedford/Fall River area. Other efforts include improving access for the disabled at MBTA facilities - which should also help contain costs from "The Ride" program. The "God-awful" interchanges at 93 and 95 are also set to get some relief under the Governor's plan.
The cost of the Governor's budget has given pause to even some Democratic lawmakers concerned about the impact on taxpayers. Addressing a primarily business-oriented audience on Tuesday, Davey said that business has been among the advocates for major transportation upgrades. "It's about jobs, it's about economic opportunities," said Davey.
An Update on the 128/93 Interchange
Finally, the forum also heard from Frank DePaola, administrator of the DOT's Highway Division, about plans to improve the traffic situation at the interchange of routes 128 and 93.
DePaola reported that the project is still in its environmental study/preliminary design stages, with an estimated cost of $330 million. The plan reportedly includes a cloverleaf design with so-called "flyover" bridges to allow cars some additional driving distance to merge into highway traffic. According to Clark, legislative action on that plan is expected late this spring.
Note: In the attached video, Davey talks some more about the fiscal problems currently facing the MBTA - particularly a staggering annual cost for just debt service.