MAYOR MATTERS: Keep Boston moving
Transportation and climate change issues need to be at the top of the new mayor’s agenda for economic growth
Fourth in a series
Of the many issues facing the next mayor of Boston, one of the more pressing is ensuring that the city fulfills its potential for continued economic growth. Mayor Menino has led well over the last 20 years, positioning Boston as one of the great urban success stories, with a growing population and strong multi-sector economy. If Boston’s employment base expands according to projections, the city will grow to 728,500 total jobs in 2016. Boston is in a terrific position, but standing still and resting on our laurels will not keep us competitive.
In order to catalyze growth in the city over the coming decade, the next mayor will need to work to improve and expand our transportation network, advance the economic opportunities of Boston and its neighborhoods, and respond to the growing threat of climate change and sea level rise. In all of these efforts, the business community must be enlisted as a true partner.
The safe and efficient movement of goods and people is critical to our economy. Boston’s population and number of jobs are growing, and transportation investment has a crucial role to play in creating enough capacity for all who want to both live and work in Boston. According to a 2012 Northeastern University research report, the MBTA will need to serve an additional 100,000 to 367,000 additional daily riders within the next 10 years, yet the current system can barely support our existing ridership levels. Many of our MBTA lines and stations, including the Green Line, Red Line, and South Station, are operating at or above capacity. Mayor Menino’s successor must provide leadership in City Hall and at the State House, and present a bold vision to maintain and expand our transportation network.
A Better City is partnering with the city, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, Massport, and MassDOT to launch the development of a new transportation plan for the growing Innovation District. The Boston Transportation Department is readying the development of a new urban mobility vision and process for the city. ABC is also collaborating with the Barr Foundation, the MBTA, and other stakeholders to examine potential bus rapid transit and surface transportation improvements. The next mayor must be prepared to seize the reins on these key initiatives, ensure their success, and advocate for their implementation.
This year, legislation was enacted that raised significant new revenue for the statewide transportation system. However, it was not nearly enough to meet what most experts consider to be the full need to maintain a state of good repair and expand service to be in line with demand. Greater Boston is the economic driver of the entire state, and the next mayor will need to forcefully advocate for the region to receive funds from the limited new resources available. Additionally, he will need to proactively build a coalition with other mayors and legislators from the inner core as well as statewide stakeholders, such as the Gateway Cities and the regional transit authorities, to lead the charge for the next round of investment.
Accepting the status quo will impose a significant cost on economic growth. According to our recent study, The Cost of Doing Nothing, the state’s capital transportation expenditures created or supported an average of 24,847 jobs annually over the last five years. Additional investments would generate even greater benefits. Massachusetts’s unemployment rate remains high, at 7.2 percent, and Boston’s is 7.6 percent. The mayor will have to be a catalyst and coalition builder for increased funding and continued improvement. After all, there are so many economic opportunities ready to be seized and jobs to be created.
Leveraging private sector resources will be a critical component of meeting our needs. The next mayor should learn from existing models, such as the New Balance Station in Brighton, and apply the same approach to other potential projects such as the expansion of South Station. Other creative ways of financing transportation projects should be explored, including tax increment financing and taking full advantage of both the state’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program and federal support through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Transportation management associations, non-profit organizations expressly dedicated to address employee transportation issues, are also a key vehicle for private sector resources to contribute to the management of travel demand. With our capacity challenges, changing travel behavior and the demands placed on our transportation system are a critical element of a comprehensive solution. And, as mentioned earlier, low cost service expansion, including the potential for bus rapid transit in high demand corridors and the use of diesel multiple units, should also be thoroughly researched and advanced where appropriate.
As the next mayor looks towards securing future investment, he will also have a full plate on his hands regarding many large infrastructure projects that are already underway. These include the Longfellow Bridge restoration, the renovation of the Government Center MBTA station, the Callahan Tunnel reconstruction, repairs to the Bowker Overpass, and the Allston Turnpike viaduct and highway realignment. With many of these projects occurring concurrently, it will be important to take proactive steps in cooperation with the state, neighboring municipalities, and business community stakeholders to ensure that the region remains open for business and that the flow of traffic, transit, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians remains as smooth as possible during the coming months. This is also a significant investment in infrastructure over the next five years, and it should be linked to a neighborhoods jobs program.
Just as Boston’s continued economic success requires a robust transportation network, action is needed on other fronts, particularly in response the threat of sea level rise stemming from the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. While climate change is a global problem, the next mayor will need to act at the local level, in partnership with the private sector.
Under Mayor Menino, Boston has been named the most energy efficient city in the nation and his administration has laid out an aggressive climate action plan goals of reducing carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. To successfully reach these targets, the new mayor will need to develop sustainable transportation strategies and work collaboratively with the real estate sector to make continued improvements in energy efficiency in our city’s buildings. The business community realizes the enormous costs an event like Hurricane Sandy would impose on Boston and will continue to work with the new mayor to implement economically viable actions that will improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and better prepare us for severe storms, flooding and climate change.Mayor Menino will be a tough act to follow, yet the arrival of a new administration brings tremendous opportunity to Boston. Yes, the new mayor will face challenges that are real and difficult. But both Marty Walsh and John Connolly are accomplished public servants with great potential. The business community stands ready to collaborate with the next mayor and continue to move this great and historic city into the future.
Richard Dimino is president and CEO of A Better City, an independent, membership-based organization committed to improving economic competitiveness and quality of life in the Boston region by advancing transportation, land development, and environmental policies, projects and initiatives.