[This article appeared in the editorial section of The Boston Globe on February 25, 2004.]
State Transportation Gridlock Threatens Economic Future
February 25, 2004 -- Massachusetts' Congressional delegation has a solid record of securing our fair share of federal transportation funds, but fiscal restraints in Washington - plus our state's record on the Big Dig -- make that job more difficult. To remain competitive in the battle for new federal transportation funding, Massachusetts must have its transportation planning process in order. Instead, we see growing evidence of the Romney Administration's failure to plan adequately for our transportation future.
The long-delayed submission of a transportation bond bill this month is the latest case in point: according to published reports, the Governor won't finalize his transportation priorities for at least nine months. Why craft a transportation bond bill if you haven't figured out what projects will move forward? Even more puzzling - Governor Romney has publicly stated for almost a year that he is preparing a transportation blueprint, yet now we learn residents might have to wait months for this roadmap.
As Massachusetts' sole representative on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - and on the eve of Congressional reauthorization of future federal transportation funding for every state - I have voiced my concerns about the state's transportation problems to Governor Romney.
The single biggest problem is the state's inability to meet federal matching fund rules. The Governor's decision to proceed with the 100% state funded Greenbush Line (a worthwhile project) highlights this Administration's planning and funding inadequacies. Last year's report on MBTA Capital Spending prepared by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation with contributions from the Pioneer Institute concluded, "The only way the T can pay for expansion projects is by failing to fund adequately maintenance and modernization of the current system." The report also stated: "the T can afford Greenbush - and nothing else - only if it continues inadequate levels of spending on the current system."
A recent decision by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) effectively confirmed those concerns. The FTA listed the T's Silver Line, Phase III project as "not recommended", concerned that the T cannot maintain and operate its system while simultaneously funding the project. I am working with all parties to reverse that decision, but what is the Administration's planning and prioritization process, and where is its long-term funding solution? The Governor jumpstarted Greenbush even though his long-term plan wasn't done, taking money off the table and depriving residents of the opportunity to understand how it stacks up against other, equally worthy projects.
This Administration's failure to follow through on promises made relative to the Big Dig also threatens continued federal funding. Even the State's Environmental Secretary raised concerns about these unkept, legally binding promises, most of which related to mass transit projects. Failure to comply could result in $25,000 a day federal fines, or the withholding of all federal transportation funds. The Governor must explain how - and when - the state will fulfill these promises. And where will the funding come from?
Finally, I have expressed my deep concern about the state's future ability to meet matching requirements for other - non-MBTA -- transportation projects. With the state still facing fiscal challenges, and communities suffering from local aid cuts, the Governor must explain how he will match federal funding for vital projects across Massachusetts.
As a starting point, since the Governor ruled out new taxes, I suggest Massport pay its fair share of Big Dig expenses. The Ted Williams Tunnel and related roadways mainly benefit Massport. Those segments of the Big Dig account for almost 1/2 of the total cost - or about $7 billion. Yet Massport is slated to contribute only $325 million. Additional contributions by Massport toward its fair share of Big Dig costs would leverage even more federal funding. For example, if Massport contributed the $100 million they have earmarked for a new runway, that money could leverage up to $400 million more in federal funds.
The Governor need not stop there. He recently proposed merging the Massachusetts Highway Department and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, in part, to create revenue and streamline operations. If the Governor's arguments in favor of this proposal are accurate and fair, then why not make Massport subject to the same approach? Hundreds of millions more in revenue might be made available for matching federal funds.
State Senator Baddour, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, recently reported that Massachusetts has the second worst highways and third worst bridges in America. The people of Massachusetts deserve better. The Commonwealth is desperately in need of leadership to solve our transportation problems. While I haven't heard back from the Governor, it's my hope that for the sake of our economy and safety of our citizens, he will take these concerns seriously and complete that blueprint we've all been waiting to see. I hope, too, that the Governor will seek a broad spectrum of input, rather than unilaterally setting transportation priorities that will impact development, our environment and public safety for decades to come.
Rep. Michael E. Capuano represents the 8th Congressional District. He is the sole Massachusetts Member on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.