Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Massachusetts Moves Badly in Transportation-Related Issues

The Boston Globe published an editorial this morning about the state of transportation in Massachusetts titled "Mass. moves -- badly."

Massachusetts Transportation Investment Coalition, a coalition of public-spirited groups, issued a report yesterday about transportation in Massachusetts.
According to a report commissioned by the Massachusetts Transportation Investment Coalition, 585 bridges in the state are structurally deficient, the most heavily traveled being the Interstate 95 span that crosses the Newburyport Turnpike in Lynnfield. A stretch of North Road in Westfield is number one on the list of deteriorated highways. There may be no immediate safety hazard, but with truck and automobile transportation essential to the state economy, no highway should linger in substandard condition.

With the spike in gas prices, ridership on public transit has increased markedly, and the MBTA has worked hard to accommodate all its riders. Years of inadequate investment, however, have meant that 82 percent of the transit rolling stock is in poor or marginal condition, and 84 percent of commuter rail coaches are in similarly poor shape. Continual repair keeps most of them going, but the threat remains of unreliable service.

The coalition comprises 21 groups ranging from the American Automobile Association, Conservation Law Foundation, Construction Industries of Massachusetts, and the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council. Its members will spend the next few months going around the state explaining the extent of the problem. The coalition's findings ought to encourage legislative candidates to make transportation finance an issue this fall.

The Globe noted that this is a hard sell topic, due to the cost. Last year, the Legislature said it would cost $15 to 19 billion to fix all the transportation-related issues plaguing the Commonwealth. Increases in gasoline tax could fund the fixes, but then voters might become angry. That leaves increasing transit fares or toll hikes, which would be a few commuters would be contributing revenue to be used for state-wide transportation issues.

In other news, two consecutive commentaries published by The Salem News about commuter rail-related issues. Yesterday the paper wrote an editorial about attempts made on the North Shore back in 1978 for extending commuter rail options. If only you could go back in time, huh? The idea 30 years ago was to build electric LRVs to run along existing commuter rail and Blue Line tracks to move people from the North Shore to Boston. The editorial also touched upon the bad experience many North Shore residents had last week in attempting to use public transportation to get into Boston for the Celtics parade.

Today's editorial was about the lack of parking at the MBTA's Beverly Station lot. There is a lack of parking at the commuter rail system's second busiest (Salem) and third busiest (Beverly) stations. However, new stations have been built in Lynn and Lawrence. Yet these stations are not busy and the demand for parking is not as great.

It seems like the T was trying to satisfy some urban communities while ignoring some other suburban/urban areas. Where's the leadership? Who is making the decisions? Will we always have to ask these questions?

On a lighter note, be on the lookout for wrapped commuter rail trains. Boston Daily wrote about the unveiling of the first-ever wrapped commuter rail train we mentioned last week. The newly wrapped train was unveiled yesterday. We'll try to find some coverage about the event.


David Moisan said...

I believe Tom McGee, the former rep in Lynn was on the MBTA Advisory board when the garage at Lynn was built. It was thought at the time that the Blue Line was closer to realization than it actually was.

It does get use, mainly as an overflow garage from Salem.

Anonymous said...

In response to your comments pertaining to commuter rail parking at Salem and Beverly, there is a key component overlooked in the article in the Salem newspaper which is the lack of real estate at these stations that can be made available for parking. The situation is extremely critical in Beverly where the MBTA barely owns enough property to handle the station platforms. The majority of the real estate around the Beverly station, including the parking areas, was sold to the current owners, the Beverly Depot, when the Boston and Maine Railroad was facing bankruptcy. It was much the same in Salem at every other station in the North Service as the railroad sold off real estate for much needed cash.

It was due to the foresight of key individuals that the MBTA and the State stepped forward and acquired as much property as possible from the railroad before it was completely sold off. This action ensured the continued operation of commuter rail service out of North Station and was soon replicated for the service out of South Station.

It is also one of the reasons for the current space available at the Salem Station although much of this property is under city-control. It should be of great concern that the non-MBTA owned parking spaces in Salem continue to be available for future parking and not converted to other land uses.

The situation was different is Lynn which was an ideal candidate for a mixed use parking lot due to location and the fact that MBTA buses also service the area. Lawrence follows a different scenario in that it is not a MBTA lot but was developed by the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority. Similar to other areas outside MBTA boundaries, regional transportation authorities or other agencies have been able to build or reconstruct parking areas that are available for commuter rail parking. Worcester is probably the best example of this but other areas are Fitchburg and North Leominister (through the Montachusetts RTA), South Attleboro (Greater Attleboro / Taunton RTS), Providence, and Lowell (Lowell RTA). These groups have been able to develop parking areas lots as a local initiative and where there were limited options for the MBTA. Certainly, the parking garage in Lawrence has been a tremendous success and should serve as a role model for other parking areas as it is locally controlled and operated, contains a Lawrence Police Dept. substation, increased security, provides much needed parking for commuter rail customers as well as local businesses, and has enabled a tremendous growth in ridership from the Lawrence Station.