After Enacting Reforms, Massachusetts Considering $19 Billion Multimodal Transportation Investment

Posted by Larry Ehl on Friday, March 29th, 2013

Transportation Issues Daily

Massachusetts is considering a ten-year, $19 billion bond bill to fund road, bridge projects and transit. The bill is sponsored by the Governor and is currently under review by the Legislature. While most of the revenue is directed to state highways, the proposal also includes $300 million in annual grant funding for cities and towns to pave and repair roads, an increase from the current $200 million.

The State has not raised its gas tax since 1991. Since that time,vehicle travel on Massachusetts’ highways have increased by 18%, and the state’s population grew by 9%.

During the past few years the Governor and Legislature have been more focused on enacting transportation reforms – in reality, a prerequisite to considering a revenue bill. Read the Mass DOT Secretary’s blog story about enacted reforms.

In many transportation circles, Mass DOT is know for its highly successful and innovative the Accelerated Bridge Program that has reduce the backlog of structurally deficient bridges statewide by 20%. See our story about the program, “Innovations: Ten Interstate Bridges Replaced In One Year Instead of Four.”

A 2012 report (4-page pdf) from TRIP (an independent, national group) found that 42% of Massachusetts’ major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. 49% percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The same report found that driving on roads in need of repair costs Massachusetts motorists $1.5 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $313 per motorist.  Transportation for America adds that many of Massachusett’s subways, bus lines and commuter trains are heavily used and they – and the roads, bridges and tunnels that carry them — are starting to fall apart after decades of heavy use and neglected repairs.

The proposal would be funded through a combination of tax and fee increases. The main pieces include an increase in the state income tax paired with a decrease in the sales tax rate:

  • Increase the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent
  • Lower the sales tax rate from 6.25% to 4.5%
  • Index the gas tax to inflation to bring in an additional $13 million in 2014, and up to $118 million more by 2021.

The revenue would be allocated primarily to maintenance, rail, transit and local roads and bridges.  Last October the Mass DOT Secretary said, somewhat famously, that Massachusetts “will build no more superhighways” (not there is any space for more highways in the state) and a “statewide mode shift goal of tripling the share of travel in Massachusetts by bicycling, transit and walking.” He explained:

“With the mode shift goal MassDOT will be able to foster improved quality of life by improving our environment and preserving capacity on our highway network; by letting other travel options absorb travel demand that contributes to highway congestion that is slowing our potential for economic growth.  In addition, we will achieve positive public health outcomes by providing more healthy transportation options.”

Here’s how the revenue would be allocated:

  • $4.6 billion to fully state-fund highway maintenance and construction, including major projects identified in Patrick’s “21st Century Transportation Plan,”
  • $4.4 billion for regional rail projects
  • $3.4 billion to provide $300 million annually distributed to towns and cities for local road and bridge projects
  • $3.3 billion to modernize MBTA subway and bus systems to improve service, safety and customer convenience
  • $2.4 billion for transportation construction projects over the next four years
  • $604 million for regional transit to modernize bus fleets and infrastructure in regional systems statewide
  • $146 million for information technology projects

If the bill is approved, Governor Patrick will pick and choose projects. Legislators only authorize the borrowing in bills.

Other revenue pieces of the proposal:

  • Increase vehicle fees by 10% every five years beginning in FY16
  • Increase tolls by 5% every two years beginning in FY15
  • Raise state income tax from 5.25% to 6.25% with changes to exemptions to raise $2.8 billion.
  • Increase MBTA transit fares 5% every two years.
  • Unlike some other states, the new money raised is expressly intended for multimodal projects. There’s no restriction on spending money on transit.

Larry Ehl is the founder and publisher of Transportation Issues Daily. In the public sector, Larry was Federal Relations Manager for Washington State DOT; Chief of Staff to US Senator Slade Gorton; and was twice elected to the Edmonds School Board.

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