Monday, January 14, 2013

What do you do with $13 billion

The Big News today is that the governor of Massachusetts has finally begun to detail how we are going to fund some sort of barely-functional-at-least transportation system in the Commonwealth. (No specifics on which revenue streams will be pursued, only that some will. Here's to hoping we take the easy and best route.) More specifics are coming soon, but the state offered up a bit of a wish list of major projects these additional revenues could help fund (such as rebuilding the entire MBTA rail fleet and the bus fleet for RTAs across the state).

Now, this is obviously the first step in a game of political football, and certainly won't be whatever is inked later this year (hopefully). Various interests (and even Republicans) will have their say, although business leaders seem to be all for increased funding and drivers may even grudgingly accept higher taxes. That can wait.

For now, I took the "wish list" and broke it down in two ways. First, I looked at each line item and what it funded: Air, Transit, Bike/Ped and Highway. I broke the transit out in to "existing" and "new" as the funding divides between improving existing services (such as replacing 40-year-old rail cars) and new funding for transit services which do not yet exist. This was a rough exercise, and certainly there is overlap (local highway funding will include bike/ped improvements, rail extensions will improve service on inner portions of the line) but it gives a good idea.

The second thing I looked at was whether each item benefited one region or multiple regions. This was even rougher. Some projects are statewide, some fund specific projects in multiple regions, and some are region-specific. The categories here were "Multiple Regions" (which includes statewide projects), "Non-Boston Area" (RTAs, mostly), "Boston Area", and the West and Southeast parts of the state. There were no projects which specifically served the central or northeast regions, although they would be served in the statewide categories.

My quick takeaways:

  • More transit than highway, by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
  • No new highway construction—just rebuilding bottlenecked intersections. As far as I can tell, not even any highway widenings.
  • Bike/ped is a small percentage, but the raw number—$430 million—is quite big. Hopefully the $1 billion slated for local roadway improvements is mandated to create complete streets as well.
  • Most of the funding goes to the Boston area or the state as a whole; the big chunk for the Southeast is for the South Coast Rail project (and, yes, we can discuss whether that is a good use of funds later).
  • This is a pretty good start. Hopefully the highway lobby won't throw up their hands and demand more roads, especially since bicycle and pedestrian projects create more jobs than highway projects.
  • This is a good start—but, yes, a start—towards tripling non-auto mode share in the Commonwealth (also see the linked article for Davey's read-my-lips-no-new-superhighwas quote).

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