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Massachusetts transportation funding running short amid population boom: Report

Congestion pricing, more tolls, higher gas tax among recommendations for closing $8.4 billion gap

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A group of Massachusetts business leaders called A Better City and the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute is out with a new report on transportation funding in the state for everything from the T to tunnels to bridges.

It is not a happy report. Instead, it paints a portrait of dire need and gnawing neglect, starting with the forecast of an $8.4 billion funding gap between 2019 and 2028.

Closing that gap between what the state’s transportation funding needs are and what it will have on hand to spend is just the start, though, according to the report: “If we can close the financing gap presented here, we will have brought our system up to 20th century standards a quarter of the way through the 21st century.”

Here’s a breakdown of that gap from the report.

What’s more, the report cites a burden on the current transportation infrastructure that will grow heavier regardless of funding. For one thing, Massachusetts is expected to add 500,000 more residents during the next 20 years, a 7 percent increase from 2017. What’s more, the number of jobs in the state—and therefore the number of commutes—is steadily rising.

How to close the funding gap and bring Mass. transportation into the 21st century already? A Better City recommends data-driven decision-making regarding which projects get priority. It also wants to see an increase in the state gas tax of 11 cents a gallon, plus pegging it annually to inflation.

It also recommends an increase in the frequency of tolls for drivers going in and out of the state and for those traveling around the Boston region on I-93 or I-95 (currently, they only get you with the tolls if you’re coming and going on I-90).

The report, too, calls for congestion pricing in the Boston area via the all-electronic tolling (AET) already at the state’s disposal:

For many years, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority provided commuter discounts to regular roadway users, most of whom travel during peak periods. Implementing congestion pricing (easily done with AET) could help raise revenue, and encourage travel time and mode shifting thereby reducing congestion. For example, by implementing a system similar to London’s, a 5am–7pm weekday congestion charge of $5.00 imposed on major roadways crossing I-95/MA 128 could raise $2.9 billion over 10 years.

The state itself is withholding judgment on the report and has touted its transportation funding so far, per a statement from Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack.

MassDOT and the MBTA continue to focus on maintaining and modernizing the Commonwealth’s transportation assets by investing $17 billion available through its Capital Investment Program over the next five years.

At this time, the Department has not been able to evaluate the $8.4 billion funding ‘gap’ referenced in this report. MassDOT and the MBTA will continue to make future investments based on a clear list of priorities, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Transportation. The expensive project list included in the Better City report has not been included in MassDOT nor MBTA capital planning documents.

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