Don Berwick on Transportation and Smart Growth

Transportation for Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance invited all candidates for governor to complete a questionnaire on important issues that will require leadership from the next governor.

1. What are your transportation investment priorities across the commonwealth?

Don Berwick: I’m running for Governor because I believe that state government should unapologetically recommit to the values of social justice, equality and compassion. I have set bold goals surrounding fighting poverty and strengthening the social safety net. I believe that transportation plays a crucial role in that pursuit. Affordable reliable, and accessible public transportation creates economic opportunity, spurs job creation, and improves equity.

As Governor, my investments in transportation will reflect these values. I will invest in closing the remaining funding gap needed to ensure safe and modern infrastructure for every resident. I will promote regional equity—while Boston and the MBTA are critical, it is equally important to provide quality transportation options for residents from other parts of the state. To do so, I will make meaningful investments in repairs and expanded service in Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs), and be a strong supporter of South Coast Rail. Finally, I will fight racial and economic disparities. Black bus riders in Massachusetts spend an extra 66 hours per year in transit than a white riders. That’s unacceptable. I would make the necessary investments to narrow this gap.

2. The Transportation Finance Act, passed in 2013, dedicates an average of $600M a year in new transportation revenue to our transportation system through FY18. Experts such as the bipartisan Transportation Finance Commission estimate that we need double this level of investment to bring our transportation system into a state of good repair, nevermind making the capacity improvements needed to support future economic development. How would you, as Governor, work to ensure adequate and stable funding to meet our needs?

Don Berwick: Our commuter rail system struggles to get people to work, our regional transit systems fails to adequately serve their regions, and our MBTA is strained under the burden of deferred “state-of-good repair” program. We’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we are running out of road. If we further delay needed maintenance, buses and railroad engines will break down; bridges and highways will become unsafe; already inadequate hours of public transportation service will worsen; construction and repair costs will rise; and forward-looking and needed expansion of the commuter network will stall. We need resources, but we need to understand these as investments in our future, just as necessary as changing the oil in a car. Deferred investment has created daily headaches, and saddled us with a massive bill that threatens the safety and reliability of our transportation system. It’s “pay now or pay later.”

I will work with the Legislature to identify revenue sources sufficient to fully fund the rehabilitation and modernization of our transportation system necessary for Massachusetts to thrive, and I will make this argument to the public without mincing words.

I fully support the gas tax, and oppose the proposed ballot initiative to repeal indexing. However, while the gas tax is necessary in today’s environment, it is not our future. As we pursue our goals to move away from carbon, the gas tax will become an increasingly insufficient source of revenue. As Governor, I will explore ways to change our funding system to more modern methods that ask people to pay according to what they use – methods like a “vehicle miles traveled”, (with strict attention to privacy concerns). I believe that a modernized fee system can be equitable, efficient, and responsive to the needs of travelers. I will regard fare increases on mass transit as the last and least desirable of all revenue sources; we need more ridership, not less.

3. Do you support the commonwealth’s mode-shift goal to triple the number of trips made by biking, walking and public transit by 2030? If so, what will you do to help the state meet this goal? If not, what are your suggestions to increase trips by public transportation, biking and walking?

Don Berwick: I fully support the state’s mode shift goal and would embrace it as Governor. Increasing the share of trips taken by walking, biking and public transit is a crucial way to reduce carbon emissions and promote public health. However, it can only happen with the necessary infrastructure to make these options attractive. This includes accessible, convenient, and pleasant public transportation that offer a viable alternative to driving in every part of our state. It also means prioritizing “complete streets” that create safe places to walk and bike. I support the Transportation for Mass goal of dedicating $50 million from the 2014 for the Complete Streets Certification. I also support zoning reform to encourage smart growth and transit-oriented development that will create more affordable housing within walking distance of their transportation options.

4. Public transportation investments and development around transit stations are critical to the growth of Massachusetts. But an often unwanted side-effect of gentrification is displacement of long-time residents. What policies would you implement to help minimize displacement, especially of low-income and disabled residents?

Don Berwick: Displacement as a result of rising real-estate prices is a dangerous phenomenon that threatens equality and prosperity in our Commonwealth. This displacement particularly impacts low-income residents, seniors, and people with disabilities—exactly the people government must stand up for. While the state cannot control “market rate” prices, it can make serious investments in creating and preserving affordable housing, especially in communities at risk of displacement. I am particularly committed to the expansion of the MRVP program back to its original funding levels. And I will work to make housing and transportation development decisions with particular attention to those with limited mobility.

5. What steps will you take as Governor to reduce greenhouse gases from transportation sector and through smart growth to reach the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets required in the Global Warming Solutions Act?

Don Berwick: Climate change is the most pressing concern to the health of our planet and to future generations. Rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires, and unprecedented climate change-induced storms threaten our livelihood as a Commonwealth. As Governor, I will double down on efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and protect our precious natural resources. To do so, we need to de-carbonize our electric grid through conservation, efficiency and renewable power sources like wind and solar; and we need to de-carbonize our transportation system through investments in smart growth of public transportation and use of electric vehicles Massachusetts has joined with seven other states in an initiative to put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. As Governor, I will make good on that commitment and provide access to high-occupancy-vehicle lanes and reserved parking spaces for electric vehicles to achieve and grow that goal.

6. To make Massachusetts more livable and successful, we would encourage the next Governor to break down agency “silos” and organize her or his cabinet to collaboratively establish and achieve economic, housing, transportation, environmental, public health and climate goals. How would you organize the executive branch to achieve these cross-cutting goals?

Don Berwick: I have been a student, teacher, and practitioner of executive leadership for 30 years, and a CEO for 25 years. I started and led an organization from a seed grant to a $40 million organization with 140 employees. And President Obama chose me to run Medicare and Medicaid—an agency with 5,500 employees and a budget larger than the Pentagon’s—during the implementation of the early stages of the Affordable Care Act.

Excellence starts with setting priorities, communicating those priorities to the workforce, and enlisting their energies towards achieving shared goals. As Governor, I will use my authority to emphasize smart growth; and I will work to mobilize relevant agencies, cities, and towns to work efficiently and collaboratively on behalf of this agenda. I will devote the resources necessary to ensure that agencies are supported in their efforts to support smart growth, and I will designate specific staff within agencies to work specifically on strategic development decisions.

7. Do you support the commonwealth’s goal of building 10,000 new units of multi-family housing each year? If so, how will you accelerate the state’s work to encourage new housing? How will you ensure that this housing doesn’t contribute to sprawl? If you do not support this goal, what are your plans to meet our housing needs in the coming years?

Don Berwick: Absolutely. In the wake of the federal cutbacks to Section 8 vouchers, the need for bold action to promote the creation of affordable housing units is more important than ever. Inaction on the state level keeps families in poverty, and, in many cases, forces families into homelessness. While we need the federal government as a partner in our commitment to housing, there are several steps we can take on the state level. As Governor, I will:

• Restore funding to the rental voucher program (MRVP), which has been eroded in recent years
• Defend 40B, 40R and 40S to encourage and incentivize communities to build more affordable housing
• Promote zoning reform that encourages dense housing and transit-oriented development
• Make strategic investments in infrastructure to ensure that our housing development and our transportation systems align
• Explore creative uses of unused state land to develop affordable housing development
• Work with cities and towns to avoid unfunded mandates surrounding affordable housing.

8. What reforms would you like to see to the commonwealth’s outdated planning and zoning laws? How would your administration encourage or incentivize municipalities to plan for future growth and development and then update their regulations to allow for that to occur?

Don Berwick: Zoning laws should encourage, not limit, our ability to create strong, attractive, and inclusive communities. This includes promoting dense and multi-family housing, preserving parks and open space, and creating jobs. Clear and stable zoning laws also facilitate new smart growth, because it offers the private sector the necessary certainty to plan and develop without fear of unpredictable change. As Governor, I will work with cities and towns to remove obstacles for smart growth and encourage regionally oriented decision-making without unnecessary and inefficient redundancies of bureaucracy.

9. In Massachusetts, 1 in 8 households do not have a car. People living in these households depend on public transportation. In certain parts of Boston and other cities, there are only limited public transportation options, and this is particularly true in many of the commonwealth’s low-income communities. In rural communities, residents often have such limited public transportation service that people, especially seniors, are housebound. What would you do to try to address these mobility needs? How will you start to prepare for the very significant growth in the transportation needs of seniors?

Don Berwick: As a physician and health care change agent, I know that patients and families benefit from being where they want to be—at home and surrounded by loved ones. Health outcomes improve and costs go down.

Far too many of government’s decisions have unintended consequences for the most vulnerable among us—the sick, the needy, and those with disabilities. Standing up for those who are vulnerable by helping them to stay at home is the right thing to and the fiscally prudent thing to do. As Governor, I will invest in the infrastructure that allows people to remain mobile and independent—this means handicapped accessible public transportation close to home for all residents, regardless of income or geography, and smart planning decisions that place affordable housing close to downtowns.

10. As Massachusetts has developed over the last 60 years, our homes and jobs have sprawled further and further apart. We have lost farmland, forests and other natural areas. What are your goals as Governor to protect and preserve land?

Don Berwick: At a time when politicians in Washington see the environment as just another thing to fight about, instead of something to fight for, Massachusetts should be proud of our bipartisan record of environmental stewardship. We love our beautiful coastline, our lakes, rivers and ponds, our forests. We also understand that our natural resources help to create economic opportunities, making Massachusetts an attractive place to visit, live, work, and establish businesses. But we can always do better.

I will use systems thinking—the theory behind smart growth—to make decisions. This perspective will guide my plans for both development and land conservation. In order to achieve a Commonwealth that minimizes carbon emissions, preserves our natural treasures, and fosters a growing economy that is accessible to all, we need a comprehensive approach from multiple state agencies to encourage dense development and discourage sprawl.

I support the Environmental League of Massachusetts’ call to increase our commitment to environmental protection to 1% of our state budget. In fact, I will go further and propose doubling existing spending to 1.2%. In addition to protecting our environment, these funds will bring new economic activity to the state and offer cities and towns who want to conserve their land the assistance they need. Finally, I will commit to supporting the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to help return hazardous sites back to their intended use as economic hubs that anchor strong downtowns and avoid the need from sprawl.