STEP’s letter to conference committee on transportation finance

Comments on H.3382, An Act relative to transportation finance
The Honorable Conference Committee Members:
I am writing as a citizen of the Commonwealth and as President of the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) to urge you to provide the full revenue needed to restore the Commonwealth’s transportation system to a state of good repair, and to meet the critical maintenance needed on an ongoing basis so we do not face the same funding deficit in a couple of years. We strongly urge ending the practice of using bond funds to pay the salary of operating employees, and support providing sufficient funds for transportation expansion projects. Such projects are needed to maintain a competitive economic climate for the state and to serve our aging population with adequate transportation services.

Our state could lose federal transportation funding if it does not sufficiently address the financial crisis now for highway, transit, and Green DOT projects. STEP is particularly concerned about sufficiently funding expansion projects. The Commonwealth has a legal mandate to construct and operate the Green Line Extension (GLX), agreed to in 1991 (in the Artery Consent Order/State Implementation Plan).
Massachusetts is seeking federal New Starts funding to cover half of the cost of the GLX. The GLX project meets all of the criteria for the New Starts federal funding except for the MBTA’s severely under-funded operations budget. Unless the Commonwealth can demonstrate it’s ability to maintain a state of good repair, New Starts funding for the GLX will not be available. Securing over one half of a billion dollars in New Starts funding for the GLX will also stimulate the state’s economy. Loss of this funding does not eliminate the Commonweal’s legal responsibility to extend the Green Line, but would it would need to cover the entire cost of the project. We do not want this to happen because it would negatively impact funding of all other transportation projects in the state. STEP will continue to advocate for the GLX, which is now scheduled to partially open in 2017 because it will alleviate some of the severe transportation burdens that Somerville bears.
STEP strongly supports the amendment inserted after section 145, to block issuing a permit requested by Global Partners (Petroleum) that would allow repairs on a rail siding to permit train shipment of ethanol to its Revere storage facility. We also encourage removing the amendment on project selection criteria from the final bill. Project selection criteria is critical but it is already being done by the regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) with input from communities and legislators, in developing their Regional Transportation Plans (RTP), which are then aggregated into the State Implementation Plan (STIP).
Transportation finance has been a problem for many years. It is time to stop kicking transportation financing down the road from one pot hole to another. It is unconscionable that the Legislature would choose to continue the shortsighted practice of under funding transportation when obvious maintenance problems keep getting worse and when there needs to be sufficient funding for investment in the Commonwealth’s future. As Mayor Driscoll (Salem) and Mayor Scanlon (Beverly) have pointed out, “Transportation investments are not a wish list. They are a must list, because getting around safely and affordably is absolutely essential.” We strongly urge the Legislature to approve at least $800 million per year for transportation funding, starting in the next fiscal year budget.
Ellin Reisner, President
Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership