Not Much Fat in the Governor’s “Ambitious” Transportation Funding Plan

Rafael Mares | @RafaelMares2

My son’s third grade class is looking for “juicy” adjectives, and I found one.  Again and again, journalists are describing the Massachusetts Governor’s 21st Century Transportation Plan, which proposes to raise revenue for our chronically underfunded transportation system, as “ambitious.” Not the kind of “ambitious” your mother admired in you when you were a college student, but the “ambitious” that implies hubris. As in asking for a lot. Maybe even too much. Insisting that the Governor’s plan is “ambitious” immediately gets people thinking about how they can cut it down to size. So before the knives come out, having carefully reviewed the plan and understanding the real needs of our transportation system well, let’s take a look at what’s really in there:

  • The plan proposes to increase Chapter 90 funding for local street maintenance and associated projects from $200 to $300 million per year.  The Massachusetts Municipal Association, however, just recently estimated the actual need to be $562 million per year.
  • Likewise, the Governor’s plan only dedicates 23% of the capital to strategic expansion projects, the rest is all maintenance of roads, bridges and transit infrastructure, replacement of old trains and buses, capacity upgrades, and other costs of the current system.
  • More importantly, only 4% of the money set aside in the Governor’s plan for operations is related to strategic expansion projects.
  • The plan also assumes that good and necessary transportation projects which have long been recommended by transportation planners and economists, such as the Red-Blue Connector and the Urban Ring, would be left unfunded over the next ten years.

I don’t know whether “reasonable” or perhaps “conservative” would be juicy enough adjectives for my son and his friends, but they would surely be a more accurate description of the Governor’s transportation plan.

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