PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION is a public good, and all residents of the Commonwealth, especially low-income individuals and people of color, deserve equitable access to an affordable, reliable, and green transportation system. Massachusetts will soon have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform its transportation system as the federal government is on the verge of making a historic multi-billion-dollar investment. If passed, this will be the largest federal investment ever in our public transit system.
As part of the Senate’s FY22 budget, I was proud to offer an amendment to require the MBTA to advance the planning and design of infrastructure projects related to curbing carbon emissions, electrifying regional rail, increasing transit capacity, and improving equity in anticipation of federal funding.
The Legislature overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of the amendment in order to jumpstart the transformation of our transportation system. With the passage of this amendment, we have laid the foundation to make the most of this unprecedented federal funding.
This amendment, however, was only the first step. In addition to formula funds all states will receive, we need to position ourselves to be chosen over other states for competitive funds that will likely be available. As part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, similar competitive funds enabled major projects in other states, such as a $2.5 billion investment in high-speed rail in California.
With billions in federal funding available, an electrified regional rail system and fully electric MBTA and RTA bus systems are within our reach. Fully electric rail and bus would benefit all communities, but especially low-income riders who are most dependent on transit. We can move forward on major projects like the Red-Blue Line Connector. We can make permanent the promising pilot programs like the fare-free Route 28 bus serving Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan and expand it to other environmental justice communities. And we must prioritize regional equity by investing in critical transportation infrastructure across the state like East-West rail from Boston to Western Massachusetts and replacing the Cape Cod bridges.
Fortunately, the MBTA has already committed to several of these initiatives. We can execute on the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board’s 2019 resolution to lower the price of regional rail by enacting subway-like fares on the Fairmount Line and Environmental Justice Corridor of the Newburyport-Rockport Line (serving Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, and Everett). The control board also committed to electrification of the regional rail system, prioritizing the EJ Corridor, Providence-Stoughton Line, and Fairmount Line.
Earlier this year, the Legislature created the MBTA Board of Directors, a permanent governance body to oversee the MBTA and pick up where the control board, a temporary body, left off. The Legislature created this new board with equity at the forefront by ensuring a permanent seat for an MBTA rider who is a resident of an environmental justice community. This new board has the opportunity to create an affordable and electrified public transportation system to fulfill the promise of transit as a public good for all.
These initiatives, and others, are critical to creating an equitable transit system. Too often, public transit access is limited or unreliable for low-income individuals and people of color. These same communities have disproportionately borne the environmental and health burdens, whether it’s the constant noise of buses and trains throughout the day or the harmful diesel exhaust fumes. We must prioritize racial and socioeconomic equity with any federal funding the state receives.
All residents of the Commonwealth, no matter where they live, deserve an affordable transportation system we can rely on to get us to school, work, a doctor’s appointment, or simply to enjoy a day out with family and friends. Our current system is simply not up to the task and our progress has been far too slow. Traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels and without proper planning, we run the risk of maintaining the status quo.
Let’s seize this opportunity to create an efficient, reliable, and affordable transportation system across Massachusetts.
Brendan Crighton is a state senator from Lynn.