Despite improvement, roads and bridges need more funding
Fair Share revenues should go for roads, bridges, reducing congestion
AS THE HOUSE AND SENATE conference committee begins its work on the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the Construction Industries of Massachusetts respectfully asks the conferees to maintain the 50/50 split of the Education and Transportation Fund but allocate a considerable percentage of the funds to our bridges, pavement, and congestion. The Fair Share tax, also known as the millionaires’ tax, is a critical source of funds to help MassDOT make the much needed – and historically underfunded – improvements to our roads, bridges, and highway system.
Over the past two decades, Massachusetts has consistently found itself near the bottom of the Reason Foundation’s annual highway report, both in terms of cost effectiveness and the conditions of our roads and bridges. Not so this year. Through the purposeful dedication of Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver and his team at MassDOT, the Reason Foundation has increased Massachusetts’ ranking by 23 spots overall. This is a huge improvement, putting the state on a positive trajectory that we as a Commonwealth must continue to foster and fund. It will require our vigilance and adequate resources.
Despite the positive news from the Reason Foundation, the report also contains sobering news needing our attention: using Federal Highway data, Massachusetts ranks 47th for urban/interstate pavement, 48th for urban area congestion, and ranks 37th for structurally deficient bridges, not including the Sagamore and Bourne bridges owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. Our safety and ability to travel are certainly in jeopardy. This is not what we expect or deserve.
These rankings by the Reason Foundation should be troubling and of concern to all. While the needs of the MBTA have our attention, and deservedly so, our roads and bridges – by far – carry more residents, commercial vehicles, and visitors across all regions of the Commonwealth than any other component of our transportation network. Ninety percent of daily trips in the Commonwealth occur over our roads and bridges. Also, MBTA and regional transit authority buses operate over our roads and bridges. Yet, we have allowed these very assets to deteriorate to rank among the worst in the nation. Certainly not something to be proud of by a state focused on being competitive with other states and regions.
When pavement is in poor condition, vehicle repair costs increase, wear and tear is accelerated, fuel efficiency is reduced, emissions increase, and overall safety is compromised. The impacts of congestion have been well publicized and include wasted time, increased fuel consumption, higher emissions and pollution, increased accidents, negative economic impacts/lost productivity, increased stress, anxiety and road rage, increased freight costs, and diversion impacts on local roads.
Using Fair Shar tax revenues to invest in the capital needs of our roads and bridges is a fiscally sound use of these dollars and will reap benefits far beyond mere statistics and rankings in reports. People will be safer and healthier; our environment will be cleaner; money will be saved; businesses will be more efficient; goods and services will move more freely; children will have more time to play; and grandparents will have more time with family & friends.
We should be proud of the improved Reason Foundation ranking as it shows that the concerted effort to use our funding more efficiently is working. However, we should not be satisfied. The funds provided by the Fair Share tax enable the Commonwealth to make marked improvements in our bridge conditions, pavement, and congestion. These improvements definitively impact public safety, the environment, economic development, our overall competitiveness, and quality of life. The groundwork for continued success has been laid, now is the time to keep moving the ball forward.The Legislature – through its conference committee for the Fiscal Year 2024 budget – has the unique opportunity to make our roads and bridges safe while reducing congestion. The needs are great, and the resources are available.
John Pourbaix is the executive director of Construction Industries of Massachusetts.