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Join the Conversation: Building a Modern, Sustainable Transportation System

Send your letters to the editor and local opinion pieces to william.laforme@patch.com.

The following is an opinion piece by State Senator Katherine Clark:

Massachusetts needs a public transportation system that is sustainable for the long-term with sufficient capital to keep fares reasonable, expand routes, modernize our infrastructure, and improve services.  Unfortunately, our current system comes up short.

In 2007, the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission outlined the problems and untenable funding models that our system relied on. While reforms have been made, we still must look at the entire system – from highways and bridges to buses and subways – and consider how we can efficiently operate and pay for a transportation network that truly meets the Commonwealth’s needs now and into the future.

A recent report from Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy underscores the continued need for change.  It found that our system is “neither well maintained nor sustainably funded,” and that while travel patterns reflect relatively lower amounts of driving and greater amounts of public transit use than in many areas of the country, access is not distributed evenly across communities. 

Equity is a challenge, along with affordability and environmental sustainability.  As the group Public Transit-Public Good has pointed out, in addition to connecting workers to their jobs and customers to businesses, public transit reduces air pollution and related illnesses, connects families to vital health services, and can increase civic engagement and community cohesion.

MassINC, a non-partisan research organization, has concluded that Massachusetts is at a “crossroads” in how we operate and finance our transportation network and that the “rationale for investing in public transit as a regional economic development strategy is exceptionally strong.”

Recognizing that a comprehensive and sustainable solution is imperative, the legislature has required the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to develop a long-term transportation financing plan.

That planning is well underway, and I strongly encourage you to be a part of it.  Our transportation system is just that: ours.  Whether we are commuters, business owners, students or seniors who rely on public transit, we all share in the benefits of an efficient, effective network, and we all need to be part of the long-term solution.

To ensure an open and transparent planning process, MassDOT is gathering information from residents across the state, and held a series of 17 Public Information Meetings this fall.  You can learn more at: www.massdot.state.ma.us.   

MassDOT’s goal is “to determine what we can we afford – both now and in the future – and how we pay for the roads, bridges, transit, bikeways, and more that residents of the Commonwealth want.”  Among the revenue proposals that have been suggested are open highway tolling, more efficient fare collection, distance based fares, regionally based revenues, gas tax increases, increased fares and service cuts, and selling naming rights for some MBTA stations. 

You are encouraged to submit comments via email at: yourvisionourfuture@dot.state.ma.us. I am very interested in your views on this issue.  In addition to submitting your comments directly to MassDOT, I encourage you to email me as well at: katherine.clark@masenate.gov

Getting our transportation system on solid ground for a vibrant future is in our district’s best interest.  There are significant challenges before us, but we must move forward with planning the public transportation system of the future.

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