NGA notes: Baker gets briefing on managed lanes

Guvs talk autonomous vehicles, barges, and presidential preferences

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said wanted to learn more about managed lanes during a meeting of the National Governors Association, and he got a sales pitch from industry players who work on those types of products.

Identified as an area for further study in the Baker administration’s recent report on traffic congestion, managed lanes use familiar tools like tolls to achieve something new: a lane available only to premium payers along with buses and vanpools to speed people more swiftly to their destination.

Baker said he had heard positive things about managed lanes from Transurban, a road operator whose North America president, Jennifer Aument, appeared with Baker, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, and others on a panel discussion Tuesday.

“They tell me that they’re very popular. I’m looking forward to hearing that part in particular,” Baker said.

Aument reeled off favorable statistics about the 60 miles of Transurban’s managed toll lanes around Washington, DC, where costs have reportedly exceeded $40 for one-way travel, and where Aument said the approach has saved 6.5 million customers 3 million hours off their commutes.

Procedurally, the Baker administration is embarking on a new study to look into whether and how managed lanes might be used to reduce highway congestion in Massachusetts. But the governor has already made clear he believes they are the fairest and most achievable way to cut down on traffic.

“It’s the one I think is most likely to happen most quickly,” Baker said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the state could either convert carpool lanes – which are now free for buses and cars with two or more passengers – into managed lanes where drivers are tolled, or it could construct new lanes along highways. There are carpool lanes on Interstate 93, Pollack pointed out, along with a lane in a harbor tunnel that the state has tried opening up to all drivers.

Four governors, and one presidential endorsement

The four governors on stage at the Fairmount Copley Plaza on Tuesday represent roughly 15 million residents in total, and one of them has toyed with running for president himself, but they had very little to say about who they want to see leading the country after the next election.

The NGA is non-partisan, but Baker, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu are Republicans. A moderate like Baker, Hogan has visited the early primary state of New Hampshire while weighing a possible presidential campaign, but earlier this year he took himself out of contention for the presidency.

Challenges to President Trump from within his own Republican party have emerged from former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman and talk radio host who voted for Trump but subsequently turned against him. Sununu has already told the Associated Press he would vote for Trump. Baker and Hogan have indicated displeasure with the president, but remained mysterious about who might earn their vote.

When asked about Trump and his two Republican challengers, Hogan deferred to Sununu, who evoked laughter by saying: “Apparently I’m the only one who knows who’s going to win.”

Baker, who blanked his presidential ballot in November 2016, said, “I have a very busy and complicated day job. And that’s been my focus and it’s going to stay my focus.”

Hogan, who only months earlier was openly considering his own Republican primary challenge, said, “I don’t get involved in primary fights.”

Raimondo, the lone Democrat in the foursome, said she doesn’t have a preference among the much larger group of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.

Baker: The future could be autonomous

At some point in the future, one theory goes, the gas-powered personal vehicle will be replaced by for-hire, driverless, electric rides. Baker, who commissioned a report on the future of transportation led by his former chief of staff, said he thinks that is a plausible scenario, but it will probably take longer than five years to get there.

“Every once in a while somebody will come in and meet with our cabinet and say, ‘You know, in five years, everybody’s going to be buying transportation as a service, and it’s all going to be autonomous, electric vehicles, and you’re not going to have parking in any of your cities anymore because no one’s going to be driving a car,’” Baker said. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the time frame associated with that, but I tend to think the endgame people talk about when they get into that conversation is probably pretty legit.”

The downside of private sector pitches

Terence Easton, president of Fluor, an engineering and construction company, said he isn’t interested in making the type of innovation proposal that the MBTA has sought from the private sector.

“To a certain extent we’re not really interested in doing those,” said Easton. “The reason is because you spend all this time and money to come up with this great idea, and the state takes it and says, ‘Thank you very much. We’re going to go through our standard procurement process, and you will have the opportunity to bid on that process along with everyone else.’”

According to the T’s website, after receiving a pitch, the T will decide whether to “forego the proposal, proceed to a sole source agreement, test a pilot program, or open a competitive procurement based on it.”

The usefulness of barges

Most of the conversation among the governors stuck to roads and rails, but Baker said that one attendee had previously mentioned the potential for barges to reduce the need for freight trains and tractor trailers.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

The governor said he hadn’t previously given much thought to barges as a freight mobility tool, but the idea made an impression on him. Aument reinforced the notion, saying barge service between Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia, “takes thousands of trucks off interstates,” and provides reliable transport.

“Barges is something that has come up at this summit, and there might be potential,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters. “We haven’t taken a look at that, but if the governor wants us to take a look at that, we will.”