Less than five years ago, in response to a CLF lawsuit, Massachusetts committed to building one thousand new “park and ride” parking spaces in the Commonwealth. The idea was to put the parking spaces near public transportation, making it easy for people to ride rather than drive to their destinations. The commitment was intended to reduce the number of cars on the roads and their emissions in order to help the Commonwealth come into compliance with the Clean Air Act. Currently, Massachusetts does not meet the national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone, a dangerous byproduct of vehicle exhaust that can trigger serious respiratory problems and cause permanent lung damage. Building parking spaces in the right locations, it has been proven, actually helps reduce air pollution.
Originally, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) selected Beverly and Salem as the locations to build the bulk of these spaces with new parking garages near their commuter rail stations. Although both communities welcomed these facilities with open arms, MassDOT decided last year instead to seek to meet their obligation by counting the “park and ride” spaces already being constructed near the Wonderland MBTA station on the Blue Line. They feared the Beverly and Salem garages would not be completed on time, but now the Wonderland park and ride spaces are also delayed.
Although it had five years to build the parking spaces, MassDOT announced this summer that it will not meet this obligation by the end of 2011.The Clean Air Act requires the Commonwealth to somehow achieve the same air quality benefits during the period of delay, through a so-called interim offset project or measure. MassDOT, however, has petitioned the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to delay the completion of this requirement without proposing any such interim offset project or measure. Why, you ask?
MassDOT is arguing that since the parking garage it chose last year to fulfill the bulk of this requirement is near private parking lots that are $2 to $3 lower in price than what the Commonwealth would have charged for parking in the new garage, the new parking facility would have been underutilized and as such would have no measurable air quality benefits. Are you kidding me? This tortured analysis is akin to my asking to get paid for a day that I did not show up at work since I would have been on Facebook all day anyway, had I been in the office. Hopefully, such bootstrapping will motivate DEP to keep its rubber stamp locked up.