Martha Coakley 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?

Martha Coakley: Decades of underinvestment have left Massachusetts with a public transportation system that is crumbling and inaccessible for far too many people. We need to look for the most cost‐effective investments that address public transportation needs regionally, because the transportation priorities in Boston are different from those in the Pioneer Valley and other areas of the state.

There are a number of public transit projects across the state that I believe are vitally important, including South Coast rail, the Green Line Extension, expanding rail service in the knowledge corridor by restoring the Vermonter rail line, creating the “urban ring” to move people around Boston, and expanding bus service and improving station infrastructure, especially in the western part of the state.

Making these strategic investments in public transit will not only help expand transportation options, but they will help grow our economy by providing businesses with access to customers and workers with access to jobs, and they will help us reach our environmental goals, by taking thousands of cars off the road and helping us reach our mode shift goals.

We must also acknowledge that our roads and bridges need attention. Hundreds of bridges throughout the Commonwealth are deficient or obsolete, and the poor state of many of our roads leads to hundreds in excess repair costs for the average Massachusetts driver. The current administration has made significant investments in repairing our roads and bridges, and I believe we need to continue this commitment, because smart investment now will save us money in the long term.

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?

Martha Coakley: I applaud Governor Patrick for bringing the issue of transportation finance to the table, and I believe the legislature took a step in the right direction with the passage of the Transportation Finance Act. I also believe, however, that we have seen the consequences of underinvestment, which simply leads to greater costs in the long term. With our Commonwealth still facing critical transportation infrastructure challenges, we need to commit to adequate investments that will improve choice and hold down costs in the long term.

The most important thing we can do to fund our transportation priorities is support the indexing of the gas tax. The gas tax remains a vital source of transportation funding, and I have publicly stated my support for the recent increase, and the plan to index the tax to inflation.

In terms of additional revenue, our first priority should be continuing to grow the economy, which will generate greater tax revenue at both the state and municipal level. We also need to examine how our state currently allocates its resources and determine if we are addressing our priorities as cost‐effectively as possible; this reinforces the importance of promoting collaboration between state agencies, to see if there are strategic investments in areas like transportation and environmental protection that can address our broader goals, including better public health and access to education. Finally, if it does become necessary to raise new revenue, I am committed to doing so in a manner that does not increase the burden on middle class families or those who can least afford it, and I will work with the legislature and advocates to make the case about why new investments are needed.

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?

Martha Coakley: Yes, I strongly support MassDOT’s mode shift goals. As mentioned above, I believe that regional equity in transportation funding is critical to needed improvements to our public transit system across the state. In addition, we need to take a more systematic approach to identifying multi-­‐modal opportunities in transportation projects. The Mass Pike realignment is a good example; the project provides the opportunity to dramatically expand walking and biking opportunities, in large part by connecting existing walkways and bike paths, we need to focus on identifying these types of project, where we can leverage existing resources to help get more people out of cars. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Project Selection Advisory Commission, which will review existing project evaluation criteria to determine how we can better prioritize projects that help us reach our modality goals.

In addition to changing our approach to transportation planning, however, promoting alternative forms of transportation also requires changing our approach to development. Smart-­‐growth development, which creates dense neighborhoods that combine housing, retail development, and transit, can help prevent sprawl, which limits people’s transportation options and forces them into cars. Especially with a population that is increasingly moving back to cities, encouraging smart-­‐growth development, and giving cities and towns the tools to implement it, is critical to increase the share of transportation taking place by walking, biking, or transit. By reforming Massachusetts’ outdated zoning laws, and providing incentives like chapter 40R and 40S, the state can push communities and developers to focus on smart growth.

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?

Martha Coakley: I understand the importance of maintaining affordability in our neighborhoods; it protects vitality in our communities and keeps people in their homes. Already, my office has taken on the fight to help keep people in their homes, intervening on behalf of homeowners who were facing unnecessary or illegal foreclosure. Gentrification is a growing concern in communities throughout our Commonwealth, but there are things we can do to support families who are currently living in communities where prices are rising unsustainably.

By promoting dense, inclusionary development, we can increase the housing supply in these communities, decrease the demand on the market, and we can ensure that there are multiple levels of housing in close proximity, including affordable, middle-­‐income, and luxury housing, as well as a sufficient supply of affordable and market rate rental housing. We can also support the continuation of 40T, which gives the state the right of first refusal on the purchase of existing affordable housing, and can help prevent these properties from converting into market-­‐rate housing.

In addition, many of the communities that are most susceptible to gentrification, like East Boston, have a high percentage of low-­‐income and immigrant residents. When gentrification occurs, these residents are often unable to serve as their own best advocates. By providing multilingual outreach on housing issues and tenants rights, and doing more to train landlords in cultural competency, we can empower current homeowners and residents to advocate on their own behalf.

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?

Martha Coakley: Putting us on the path to meeting both our 2020 and 2050 reduction targets will be one of my top priorities as Governor. Over the past five years, we have begun implementing effective strategies to reduce emissions, but reaching our aggressive 2050 goal requires that we start today on developing longer‐term policies to address the major GHG emitters in Massachusetts; the single largest GHG emitter is transportation, which currently accounts for 40% of the Commonwealth’s total emissions.

There are a number of concrete steps we can take, both in terms of our transportation priorities and our development strategy, to reduce GHG emissions. In terms of transportation, we can increase investments in public transit, expand the support infrastructure for electric and other alternative fuel vehicles, and, as a specific example, we can revise the way we do Transportation Impact Assessments to make sure that developers have a stake in creating transportation solutions that help move people in and out of severely congested areas, like Boston’s seaport.

With regard to smart growth, I support H1859, legislation that would empower cities and towns to consolidate permitting processes, implement inclusionary zoning, regulate “approval-­not-­required” subdivisions (which lead to sprawl), and it provides a mechanism to fund capital needs related to new development, including water, sewer, and sidewalks. This legislation will give communities and developers the tools and predictability they need to make smarter, more cost-effective land use decisions and focus on dense development, rather than continuing sprawl.

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?

Martha Coakley: The AG’s office also deals with a wide range of issues, from utility rate regulation to civil rights violations to housing issues. Dealing with this multitude of challenges has shown me the importance of building a team that is able to work together to achieve a set of shared goals. It is the job of the Governor to articulate a vision for the state and then build a team who can work collaboratively to achieve that vision, that is the model I will use in the corner office. I also believe it is important to build a team comprised of individuals who are not only experts in their respective fields, but who are able to work at the grassroots level, with advocates and other stakeholders, to identify and address current challenges. With this priority in mind, I will work closely with advocates and stakeholder when selecting the individuals who will make up my cabinet.

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?

Martha Coakley: Yes, I support the goal of building 10,000 new units of multi-­family housing each year. There is currently a lack of both designated affordable housing and affordable, market-­rate housing in Massachusetts, it is driving up the housing cost burden on young families and contributing to homelessness. With this in mind, we should continue to support 40B, which is the state’s single most effective housing production program, based on total units produced. We must also increase the number of affordable rental units, for individuals and families who are not able to, or simply do not want to, own a home, and we should increase funding for rental housing vouchers.

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?

Martha Coakley: As I mentioned above, I support H1859, which would update our outmoded zoning and planning regulations, encourage balanced land use, and reduce sprawl. I will also look at expanding 40S and 40R, which provide financial incentives for communities that build smart growth consistent housing.

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?

Martha Coakley: First and foremost, we need to ensure that our existing station infrastructure is accessible to everyone, regardless of age or physical disability. We also need to ensure equitable access; especially in rural communities, this means making greater investments in our RTAs, both to improve station infrastructure and to increase frequency and reliability of service. In urban areas, it means prioritizing projects like the Green Line extension, which will dramatically increase the percentage of residents with easy access to public transportation.

With regard to seniors, specifically, we also need to give more support to non‐profits and other organizations that provide services, including, transportation for older individuals. These organizations fill an important gap, especially for older residents who are unable to access existing public transportation. I met recently with Mass Homecare Association, which represents a network of more than 30 “age info centers” across the state, which help connect seniors with vital services. Working with organizations like these, we can do a better job ensuring that seniors are able to access existing transportation services.

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?

Martha Coakley: Today, Massachusetts loses 16,000 acres of open space annually, much of it current or retired farm land, and we are on pace to lose 13% of our forests in the next 50 years. Governor Patrick has sought to address this problem through significant investment in conservation; as a result of the Governor’s action, the state has protected more than 100,000 acres since 2007 and created 150 new parks across the state. Moving forward, we need to continue this level of investment in conservation; I have called for continuing to invest in the Community Preservation Act and increasing the existing state conservation land tax credit, to promote charitable giving of important land.

Again, smart growth plays an important role in this effort. Much of the land we lose every year is as a result of residential or commercial development. Promoting smart growth, with the passage of H1859 and the expansion of 40S and 40R, will allow us to meet our housing needs without adding to the sprawl that is currently eating away at our remaining forests and open spaces.

In addition, we can focus on reclaiming land that is currently blighted. The AG’s office administers the Brownfields Covenant Program, which incentivizes property owners and developers to clean up contaminated sites and create spaces for playgrounds, community gardens, and other projects that revitalize communities. Reclaiming brownfields is especially important to promoting urban agriculture, small‐scale farming that enables inner city residents to access fresh, locally‐grown food. As Governor, I will maintain my commitment to not only protecting existing natural spaces, but also reclaiming these currently polluted areas.