Same old transportation story
Though there were some fresh faces on hand at Wednesday evening’s Our Transportation Future/MOVE Massachusetts forum, like Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, the most striking feature of any statewide transportation finance convocation these days is that the story lines just don’t change.
Asked about his decision to confront problems at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority before the MBTA, Secretary of Transportation Bernard Cohen said that he wanted to deal with “one problem child at a time.”
Sen. Steven Baddour, co-chair of the Legislature’s transportation committee, later offered up that the MBTA’s mostly financial issues should have been taken care of first. (That would be before those of its evil MTA twin with its multiple financial-management-structural personality disorders.)
Yet the standing room only audience of transportation activists and policy makers in downtown Boston had heard it all before:
The good? Promoting structural reforms and efficiencies in state transportation agencies.
The bad? Borrowing money to pay for the upkeep of the roads, bridges, mass transit (never mind the new projects).
The ugly? The political will necessary to take serious steps toward generating fresh revenues is nowhere to be to be found.
The stumbling block? That would be getting to a place where the adults can use the T word (that would be taxes) before the larger body politic.
Cohen dismissed the gas tax’s revenue-raising possibilities, noting that vehicle miles traveled, an important indicator of American driving habits, is declining.
Baddour said that he hears plenty about the gas tax from transportation advocates. But in meetings with constituents (i.e. voters), the subject never comes up. The Legislature has to show people that the state is spending money wisely before lawmakers can get support for new taxes, Baddour said.
That oft-repeated statement led to push back from several people during the Q & A, including Francis Callahan Jr. the Massachusetts Building Trades Council president. As Baddour riffed about political will in response to Callahan’s question about new revenues, he boiled over, shouting “You need to exert more leadership.”
Needless to say, Callahan got plenty of “atta-boys” from fellow audience members afterwards.
Keep hope alive.