Boston to boom, west and Cape shrink by 2040
Population projections will have big impact on where transportation money goes
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The data was part of new models researchers are using to gauge where best to put state resources for highway and transit improvements and expansion. It is a dilemma that vexes officials looking for the best return for the dollars while ensuring an even-handed distribution of state resources.
The study, presented at the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting, was done in conjunction with the state eyeing projects such as the construction of the West Station commuter rail stop in Allston and the remake of the I-90 viaduct at the former Allston-Brighton toll booths. The data showed a stark difference in the state’s overall demographics over the next two-plus decades, with the area inside the Route 128 belt growing at roughly the same rate that western Massachusetts and Cape Cod are expected to decline.
Tim Reardon, director of data services for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, acknowledged the 13 regional planning organizations still don’t have it set and said regions such as the Cape are displeased with the formula showing the disparity.
If the models are accepted by the state, it would likely mean much of the transportation money would heavily favor the Greater Boston area. Reardon said part of the reason for the growth projection is the expected influx of immigrants, who he said comprise the largest sector of growth and who normally favor the population centers because of ease of mobility and housing supply.
Reardon said the forecasts show employment will grow slower than the population because of the aging workforce as well as the decrease in the size of households, a key factor in projecting transportation needs including “trip generation.” Reardon said the expectation is that there will be more single-person households as boomers retire and live longer as well as an increasing number of people who choose not to marry or have kids. He said while the number of households with children will increase, the share of the total number of households will be smaller.
“We will have more and more seniors living in his state,” he said. “We will have more and more people living alone in this state…Fewer of our residents will be in the labor force. The number of households with children under 18 will hold steady.”
The report, which was the work of the regional planning organizations and the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute in Hadley, noted that the biggest increase in population will be among lower-income workers who will have transportation needs that will be harder to meet than those with means. Fiscal board chairman Joseph Aiello asked that as the projection model further develops, that historic data showing where low-income needs were seen and met be included. He said as those workers get priced out of the city and forced to move further from their jobs, transportation revenue will have to follow them to ensure they can get to work.
“We have to worry about where are they going to and think about targeted interventions and thinking about longer-term needs,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack pointed out that the study puts Massachusetts far ahead of other states trying to assess their transportation needs, with many doing simple mathematical projections from the current numbers and future projections, and noted that while federal mandates don’t require such exhaustive examination, it will put the state in prime position for money for projects.
“We’re farther down the road than a lot of other places,” she said.
Eric Bourassa, director of transportation planning for MAPC, said land use along the corridor will be as big a factor in determining need as population will. Aiello asked about past projections that used outdated numbers in the first go-around about use and suggested the planners look at projections for ridership on timetables such as trains once an hour.
“You might get more people to ride the commuter rail,” he said.
Pollack, though, raised the concern that other places that may also be seeing population growth would seek similar service and increase demand on finite resources.“Are we going to do that with Chelsea, with Lynn?” she asked.
The board was also expected to hear reports on planned design changes for the I-90 viaduct between the Charles River and Boston University, but that was postponed until the next meeting when the hearing ran long.