Labor Day weekend marks the end of what for some will be remembered as the summer that brought net new revenue to the Commonwealth’s transportation system. Others see it as the logical end of the reform effort. Still others will focus on the begining of a new phase of transportation debate – with the rivarlies and lack of funding put aside (for now), let’s discuss what gets fixed and what gets built and why. The truth is that it is all three.
Despite the somewhat rocky ending, Chapter 46 of the Acts of 2013 provides badly needed net new revenue, marks more progress on reform, and sets some good transportation policy. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that it is a milestone on the road toward a better transportation system that started with Chapter 194 of the Acts of 2004, which required agencies with similar missions to work together to find efficiencies. Governor Patrick, who spoke of the lack of cooperation in state level transportation when he ran for office in 2006, made it clear that he would pay attention to transportation reform in 2007 with his Massachusetts Mobility Compact, the first formal, structured attempt to end the rivalries that were imbeded in state transportation culture. Still more progress was made in the 2008 bond bill that authorized the use of flaggers at construction sites, altered MBTA retirement benefits, and legally required the use of life-cycle cost modeling. While some are dissapointed in the results to date, the civilian flagger regulations that followed showed the industry that the Governor was serious about his goals and that changes in long-standing institutional practices where possible. All of that work set the stage for the creation of MassDOT in 2009. MassDOT’s work on reform, in turn, helped make this summer’s law possible. And, no sooner was that law passed than we moved to the next discussion over what gets built.
The great legacy of this work is that it ended a long-simmering agency fued that angered citizens and stifled progress. It took ten years of incremental progress to do that and to provide the resources we need toward getting the transportation system we all want – which is, after all, the real objective. Bravo.