Massachusetts’ transportation problems are well-known and growing, and 2013 shapes up as the year in which they must finally be addressed rather than just discussed. Legislative leadership promises to make transportation a priority and today Governor Deval Patrick is expected to address the issue and ideally offer the concrete funding mechanisms necessary to make improvement a reality. Even if the cure is hard to swallow, continuing to allow the problem to fester is no option.
The dilemma is three-fold, with transportation debt, personified by the buck-swallowing Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, sucking up transportation dollars for the rest of the state. Inadequate funding for public transit and the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges make up the other two legs of this critical problem.
The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority does good work with limited resources ($1.8 million annually compared to $37 million annually for the MBTA) but wants to answer demand by adding routes, extending service hours and operating on Sundays. At an Eagle editorial board meeting last week with the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition, Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy said more flexible bus schedules would benefit students from around the county and provide better access to BCC facilities for county residents. Residents who are homeless or low income require better access to public transportation to get jobs that reduce or end dependence on government assistance.
Upgrading the state’s roads and bridges would provide jobs while addressing neglected problems that become more costly to fix with every year they are postponed. The problem is compounded, as Anthony Puntin, a Pittsfield native who heads the Boston Society of Civil Engineers told The Eagle, because the state is trying to build and fix roads and bridges with half the revenue of 15 or 20 years ago while costs keep going up.
The funding gap has emerged because the state gasoline tax, the primary source of transportation funding, has been stagnant since 1993. That 19-cent tax constituted 17 percent of the average cost of a gallon of gas 20 years ago. Today, according to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, with the cost of gasoline up to an average of $3.46 a gallon, the tax represents less than 6 percent of that cost. "It’s just math," observed Mr. Puntin in explaining the resultant funding crisis.
We urge the entire Berkshire delegation to join state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield in seeking additional funds for the BRTA. The county must also get its fair share of road and bridge money. That pool of money must be increased, however, which requires Beacon Hill to take the difficult action that has been put off. Our employers, employees, students, elders and everyone else who relies on roads, buses and trains require it.