South Shore Leaders Examine Challenge of Public Transportation Investment
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council Transportation Forum was held at Braintree Town Hall Wednesday morning.
An easel stood at the front of the Braintree Town Hall auditorium Wednesday morning, scrawled with signatures and notes from the attendees of a regional transportation forum.
The signatures symbolized agreement with a few basic ideas about the state of transportation on the South Shore and throughout Massachusetts: a strong system is vital to communities, but funding is inadequate and infrastructure is crumbling.
One of the major barriers to the kind of investment that will improve the state's roads, rails, sidewalks, buses and traffic lights is the public's "high level of distrust" of how government uses its money, said John Stobierski, Vice President of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.
"It's pretty simple," Stobierski said. "You need to show the value and you need to show the results."
State and local officials gathered for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council Transportation Forum, including Mayor Joseph Sullivan, Weymouth Mayor Susan Kay, Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, and Sen. John F. Keenan, D-Quincy.
The transportation problem in Massachusetts, especially regarding the MBTA, is a "double-edged sword," said Ann Burbine, a member of the South Shore Coalition, one of the forum's co-hosts.
More funding is needed to boost service levels and address infrastructure needs, Burbine said, but without an increase in ridership additional resources are hard to come by.
"It is unfortunate that the T was saddled with the Big Dig debt," Burbine said. "It's a question of fairness. It's a question of social and economic justice."
Additional funding – from an increased gas tax, MBTA advertising, private tolling or some other source – would go a long way toward boosting economic development, local officials said.
Weymouth, for instance, depends on a strong transportation system for getting people to South Shore Hospital, for tourism, and for attracting more commercial development to Southfield, Kay said. The town has a long list of roads and sidewalks requiring repair, and state Chapter 90 funding cannot fix them quickly enough at its current levels.
Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said that along with local aid, Chapter 90 transportation money is the association's most important priority. Surveys completed by the group have shown that funding would need to at least double to adequately address local infrastructure improvements statewide.
"Investment in transportation promises economic growth," Beckwith said. "It is good for us. It is good for our communities."
Koch said he regards the deteriorating Red Line infrastructure in Quincy as "an opportunity" for investment, saying that the city is heavily dependent on the rail system for growth and is hoping that the state steps up.
"We're not looking for a handout," Koch said. "We're looking for participation."
The key to creating positive change, though, is involvement from the public and business community, Stobierski said. "Infrastructure" is not a term that resonates with people, he said, urging those in attendance to focus on spreading the messsage of how better transportation means better access to education, health care and jobs.
"We need to be convinced that our dollars are being spent wisely," Stobierski said.