Don’t Give Up Vital Transportation Funding

October 22, 2014

By Bonnie Biocchi and Joshua Ostroff

Guest Columnists in the MetroWest Daily News

(The following column was published on October 12, 2014: see original)

On Nov. 4, voters will choose a path that affects our roads, bridges, transit systems and economy. We urge you to vote No on ballot question 1.

Here’s why. Our transportation network – the streets and sidewalks, trains and buses, and the bridges, highways, tunnels and tracks we rely on every day – is in disrepair. Not all of it, but far too much.

Inadequate, unreliable transportation harms every one, every day, in MetroWest and across the Commonwealth. Traffic jams. Detours. Crowded trains. Infrequent buses. Bad roads that cause car repairs. And lost opportunity, because business expansion requires access for employees, customers and freight.

That’s all real, but it’s not the worst of it.

Too many of our bridges are unsafe. You can see this with your own eyes, with visible rust and decay, and worse rot lurking beneath, detected through regular inspections. Numbers tell the story: 28 closed so far, 487 structurally deficient – and statewide, over half are deficient or obsolete. Not a month goes by without another bridge restriction, and that affects all of us.

Bringing transportation up to a safe standard, and preparing for our future needs, requires dedicated revenue. But Question 1 would eliminate funding for critical projects at a time we need it most.

The state legislature’s 2013 vote to index the gas tax to inflation was necessary to ensure that the state and cities and towns have the funding to fix unsafe bridges and dangerous roadways, and solve the transportation nightmares that have plagued MetroWest for years.

Should the legislature take a vote every year on the gas tax? It’s a fair question, but bad policy. Bridges are not gallons of milk, where you run out to the store when you run low. They take years to fund, plan and build. And a yearly vote on the gas tax is wishful thinking, because the last increase in the gas tax was 22 years ago, over which time the gas tax lost 42 percent of its buying power because of…. drum roll, please…. inflation.

If the Legislature had voted on transportation revenue based on actual need, we would not be in this mess. In 2007, a report commissioned by the Legislature pegged the transportation repair tab at $1 billion a year. Instead of tackling that problem right away, we waited until 2013. By then the costs had run even higher, because older infrastructure costs more to maintain.

Question 1 proponents claim that gas taxes are diverted from roads and bridges. Yet the state constitution dedicates gas tax money to all transportation, and investing in transit reduces highway decay while protecting the environment, the economy and our health.

Question 1 supporters oppose what they call an automatic tax increase. Revenue from most other taxes – sales, income, capital gains – rises with inflation. The gas tax is unique because it is a fixed rate. If the gas tax were a percentage, this would be moot.

Finally, some question 1 supporters call this a raid on your wallet. Consider that gas tax indexing, which will add half a cent per gallon, will cost the average family five dollars a year. That’s a minimal investment for the peace of mind that comes with a concerted approach to roads and bridge repair.

So it comes down to this. These are everyone’s bridges, everyone’s roads, everyone’s transit and therefore, everyone’s issue. The indexed gas tax is the best tool we have to solve a serious and growing crisis. For our safety and to ensure our economy continues to grow, the responsible choice on November 4 is to vote NO on Question 1.

Bonnie Biocchi is the president and CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce. Joshua Ostroff is Outreach Director for Transportation for Massachusetts, a non-profit coalition, and is chair of the Natick Board of Selectmen.


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