Transportation Committee Hears Funding Needs
By Paul Tuthill
Springfield, MA – A co-chair of the Massachusetts State Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation warns there is a statewide transportation crisis. The committee held a hearing in Springfield Wednesday to highlight the Pioneer Valley's transportation issues. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Massachusetts State Senator Thomas McGee says the state needs to increase funding for transportation by at least a billion dollars annually to help pay for overdue highway and bridge projects and avoid large fare increases and service cuts on public transit.
Four years ago, the legislature approved a big transportation reform bill that streamlined bureaucracy and raised the state sales tax in order to avoid toll hikes on the Massachusetts Turnpike and fare increases on the MBTA..the large public transit system in eastern Massachusetts.
The MBTA is proposing fare hikes and service cuts. It is not the only transit agency in Massachusetts in dire straits financially
Mary MacInnes, the administrator of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is projecting a 1 point 8 million dollar deficit in next year's budget.
The PVTA's last fare increase was in 2008. McInnes told the members of the legislature's transportation committee that 75 percent of the PVTA's riders have no alternative means of transportation. John Bennett, head of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council said demands on public transit will grow because the region's population is aging and will be driving less.
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission says there is a pending back log of more than 90 transportation projects in the region totaling one point 4 billion dollars. One critical project, to rebuild the elevated portion of Interstate 91 through downtown Springfield, will cost 400 million dollars, according to the commission's executive director Timothy Brennan.
Brennan told the committee there are extraordinary needs that can only be addressed with more revenue. He urged the committee to investigate place based taxes. Used in other parts of the country, it allows voters in a defined geographic area to authorize local tax increases to pay for specific projects.
Brennan said the legislature also needs to pass a new transportation bond bill.