Massachusetts transportation experts gathered Tuesday morning at the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Center to discuss the future of transportation in the commonwealth.
The three-person panel included Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack; Charlie Chieppo, principal at Chieppo Strategies; and Rick Dimino, the president and CEO of A Better City, and was moderated by George Donnelly, the publisher of MASSterList and a State House News Service contributor.
Donnelly opened the discussion with an introduction describing the increased importance of transportation problems in political circles.
“A year ago, transportation was not on the political radar,” Donnelly said.
Envisioning the next 25 years of transportation in the state, the panelists agreed that the problems plaguing existing assets, such as the MBTA’s state of repair problems, needed to be taken care of before expansion (like the proposed extension of the Green Line into Somerville) begins. Pollack said it’s nearly impossible to know what the future of transportation will be, and instead, the state needs to focus on modernizing existing assets and agencies to adapt to future changes.
Meanwhile, Dimino and Chieppo both stressed the need for major projects to be completed, like the creation of an urban ring for the MBTA’s rail system to shorten commute times.
“We’ve got 8 million square feet of development coming to the Longwood Medical Center,” Dimino said. “Anybody ever try to get to Longwood? It’s a nightmare.”
Pollack spoke in favor of more modest improvements in the immediate future. These ranged from increasing the amount of data available to the Department of Transportation for future planning, to improving fiscal discipline at the MBTA.
“[The MBTA has] treated the capital fund like an open checkbook,” Pollack said.
The discussion focused on how policy makers could gather the political will and financial resources to make real changes to Massachusetts’s transportation system. Panelists agreed that gathering political support will be a difficult process, especially with public trust in the MBTA bottoming out after last winter’s system-wide failure. Chieppo singled out the MBTA, saying the agency needs to change the way it spends its money before citizens will give it new funds.
“We live in a world of scare resources and we’re limited by how much citizens are willing to pay,” Chieppo said.
LaDarrell Hagans, of Dorchester, attended the panel and was impressed by the various viewpoints presented in the discussion.
“The panel as a whole I thought was rooted with a depth of knowledge, with regard to their experience in transportation,” Hagans said. “I wish more people had had the opportunity to witness.”
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