The Challenge

Massachusetts’ transportation system was designed for the 20th century and presents many challenges to the state’s citizens and businesses. Outlined below are five of the most pressing issues:
Attribution: Essygie CC BY 2.0

The 20th-Century Transportation System: The statewide transportation system we know today was, for the most part, designed and constructed in the early- and mid-20th century.  It is, therefore, an old system, and in need of significant maintenance, repair, and modernization. The MBTA was introduced more than a century ago. The Massachusetts Turnpike was created in the mid-1950s. Most of the state and interstate roadways, bridges, and tunnels were built in mid-20th century. Each of these signature elements of our system was designed to meet the needs of a different generation, and they now need to be updated — an effort that will be both expansive and expensive. We must determine the best ways to prioritize and fund this work.

Attribution: Jason Lawrence CC BY 2.0

21st-Century Problems:  Numerous 21st-century challenges are straining our current system.

  • As our cities grow denser, more people want to commute on the aging transit system because it is affordable, and avoids driving in traffic and parking costs.
  • Buses compete with cars and trucks on roadways, rather than traveling in designated lanes. And, too often, the “last mile” of connection is difficult between modes of transport.
  • A great deal of the system is designed to get cars and trains in and out of our major cities, but modes of transport that link regions and urban rings would better connect people to jobs and housing.
  • Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to find more environmentally sound means of getting around the state.
  • Over time, climate change may result in flooding and sea level rise that threatens our infrastructure.

Designing a system that addresses these, and other challenges, is critical to meet the needs of citizens and commerce in the Commonwealth.

Attribution: Matthew in Boston CC BY-SA 2.0

High Levels of Debt:  Our state transportation system generates more than $3 billion in revenue each year, and almost half of that revenue is dedicated to debt payment. The MBTA collects approximately $600 million in fare revenue each year, and more than $400 million goes to paying debt. In addition, the MBTA’s repair and modernization needs – what it would take to keep the T functioning in a “state of good repair” – are estimated at $7 billion; sufficient funding to carry out this work in a timely manner does not exist. Determining how to address debt is an urgent topic that needs to be tackled, so that revenue can be redirected to creating a modernized system.

Attribution: Rusty Clark CC BY 2.0

Growing Urban Demand and Regional Needs:  As a result of strong economic and employment growth over the past few decades, many areas of the state have experienced massive expansion. Our transportation system has not adapted to the shifts in transportation patterns that have accompanied this growth.  For example, growth in places like Burlington has caused significant issues that threaten to slow down the pace of economic expansion. Efficient regional transportation –focused on Route 128 and 495 corridors, and in our Gateway Cities – is vital to ensuring that citizens can access employment conveniently and cost-effectively.

Attribution: Bike Share Partnership CC BY 2.0

Shifting Demographics: Massachusetts’ population is changing rapidly and these shifts have surfaced new transportation needs and desires, as well as issues of equity. For example:

  • Cities are getting younger and wealthier, and as housing prices increase, low-income individuals and families are being displaced. As a result, there is a greater need for public transportation in areas around cities.
  • Younger people living in the city are interested in having different transportation choices available to them, including cycling, walking, and transit.
  • As residents in rural areas grow older, their safety and mobility is impaired by poorer roads and lack of transportation alternatives.

We need a transportation system that provides equal access to different modes at reasonable prices, and is flexible enough to adapt to population changes.

Attribution: Sam CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Innovation and Equity:  Our public transportation system is experiencing competition from the private sector, and many of these innovations are benefiting only certain segments of society. For example, services such as Uber and Lyft require customers to have a bank account, which excludes many low-income individuals from this transportation option. As eligible customers begin to use these new offerings, fewer funds are being directed into the public transportation system – largely impacting those from low-income households. Our transportation system needs to be agile enough to make innovation work for everyone.