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Caution: difficult transportation funding choices ahead.

A new study by Smart Growth America reveals that three-fourths of Americans believe that being smarter about development and improving public transportation are better solutions for reducing traffic congestion than building new roads. Across the region, CLF's lawyers are questioning highway expansion projects and promoting smart transportation solutions that give people the opportunity to drive less and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The transportation funding crisis facing Massachusetts provides a window onto the challenges ahead for our region as we seek to make better choices about how public funding is spent on transportation projects. Existing road systems and bridges in the Bay State are crumbling and public transit systems are failing to meet customer demand. In addition, the Massachusetts BayTransit Authority (MBTA), which provides bus, subway and commuter rail service to Greater Boston, has raised rider fares three times since 2000, discouraging residents from using transit at a time when roadway congestion continues to increase. Even with these fare hikes, the T remains deeply in debt and is unable to improve service to meet customer needs.

The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission, a group of experts appointed by the legislature to study the Commonwealth's transportation system, has identified a $15-19 billion gap in transportation funding over the next 20 years. This gap--the result of years of deferred maintenance and consistent under-funding of transportation agencies--must be closed in order to maintain the state's transportation infrastructure. The MBTA's budget has not grown to meet rising fuel and employee healthcare costs and, at the same time, is saddled with billions of dollars in debt. Nearly a third of the MBTA's annual budget goes to pay off debt--money that might be better spent improving service to attract more riders and expanding service to new communities to get more cars and trucks off the road. Key transit expansion projects supported by CLF include the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line through Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park, the Green Line Extension to Somerville and Medford, and the Red Line-Blue Line Connector in downtown Boston.

Public transportation expansion is essential to relieve congestion, give people opportunities to drive less, and connect workers with jobs. It's also a key strategy for addressing the most pressing environmental challenge of our generation: climate change. More public transit options mean fewer cars and trucks on the road, resulting in less global warming pollution. How ever, to adequately maintain and improve the state's transportation system, Gov. Patrick, legislators and residents will have to face difficult choices;

CLF co-founded a diverse coalition to encourage elected officials to pursue transportation funding solutions that are both environmentally and economically sound. The Transportation Investment Coalition includes labor, industry, business, real estate, planning, municipal and environmental organizations united in their concern for the funding crisis facing Massachusetts' transportation system.

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"If we want to maintain roads and bridges so that they are safe to drive on, and at the same time invest in an efficient and expanded public transit system that will give many Massachusetts commuters a viable alternative to car travel, we need to be open to bold, new revenue-generating ideas" Phil Warburg, president of CLF explained.

Difficult decisions ahead A number of common-sense solutions would effectively address the funding gap. An increase in the gasoline tax by 11.5 cents would raise about $10.5 billion over the next 20 years, solving more than half of the state's transportation funding crisis. Additionally, it would provide an incentive for higher mile-per-gallon vehicles and use of alternative transportation, such as walking, biking and transit. Massachusetts currently collects 23.5 cents per gallon in gasoline tax, a charge which has remained flat for 16 years, losing a third of its value to inflation. Neighboring Rhode Island collects 31 cents per gallon while Connecticut and New York collect 37 and 42 cents per gallon respectively.

Another viable transportation funding option is to implement a per-mile highway user fee which could spread the cost of highway maintenance and operations fairly among all drivers and potentially generate new revenues for transit. Our current tolling system places a disproportionate burden on residents of central and western Massachusetts who live along the Turnpike. State-of-the-art technology can make roadway pricing much more equitable and more efficient than conventional tolling. It can also allow pricing to be adjusted to encourage off-peak travel to reduce congestion or even to reward fuel-efficient vehicles.

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CLF tackles solutions around the region

Around the region, CLF is working to provide better transportation choices for New Englanders, and to reduce our impacts on air, land and water by making the right transportation infrastructure investment decisions. In New Hampshire, CLF's advocates are questioning the shortsighted expansion of 1-93 and are pushing the state to look at a commuter rail alternative that would reduce rather than add to traffic, decreasing air pollution while providing a more convenient alternative for many travelers and commuters. In Vermont, CLF advocates are challenging plans to build the Circ highway around Burlington, a costly highway project that would lead to more sprawl, more pollution and more global warming. In Rhode Island, CLF is looking for ways to make improvements in public transportation legally enforceable, to cut global warming and other air pollutants while reducing the need for more miles of automobile travel. And in Maine,

CLF is working to limit the greenhouse gas impacts of the proposed Plum Creek development in the Moosehead Lake Region. Concentrating development near existing communities is one step CLF has proposed to reduce the vehicle miles traveled in the area.

Massachusetts has an opportunity to show leadership in our region by providing a safe and effective transportation system, using revenue-generating mechanisms that could help reshape the way New Englanders think about transit.

Carrie Russell is a CLF Staff Attorney.
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Author:Russell, Carrie
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:956
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