The first image on the screen in the first television ad aired by gubernatorial challenger Jay Gonzalez shows a traffic-clogged chunk of the Massachusetts Turnpike, and that’s no accident.
To a degree that would have been surprising just four years ago, a central issue in the race for governor is the idea that the region is literally grinding to a halt — and that the incumbent has been too, well, slow in dealing with it.
“Our government is moving in slow motion,” says Gonzalez, narrating the 30-second spot. His message is broader than transportation, but that’s the lead card. “We spend too much time waiting. Waiting in traffic and on broken trains,” he says. “Waiting for all of our public schools to be great.”
“Charlie Baker is dragging his feet. We need to get moving,” says Gonzalez, as the music suddenly shifts up-tempo and he pledges to be a governor who will lead with “urgency.”
Baker has made fixing the beleaguered MBTA a priority, and he owns the issue in a way no previous governor has after he established a oversight control board to manage the authority in the wake of the historic 2015 snowstorms that crippled the T. At a recent forum on environmental issues, he said improvements are on track, and vowed that the T will have the resources needed for its $8.1 billion capital spending plan over the next five years.
Gonzalez said the T needs more money, and he vowed to get those funds, if elected, without raising fares.
Polling supports the idea that transportation has become a prime concern in the state. In a February WBUR poll, 81 percent of respondents said they favored new state revenue committed to transportation upgrades — though it’s not clear how they think that money should be raised. In the same poll, 38 percent of respondents said getting around had become harder over the last five years, while 48 percent said it was about the same. Just 14 percent said they thought it had become easier.
One critical voice is now joining the chorus calling for a focus on transportation: the business community. The Globe’s Jon Chesto reports that it was the number one issue in a recent survey of senior executives at the state’s top companies done by the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. It’s already been a top priority of another business group, A Better City, run by Rick Dimino, a one-time Boston transportation commissioner. Add support for studying high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield from major business voices like Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish and it’s clear that transportation improvements are now seen as a lynchpin of efforts to keep the state’s robust economy humming along.
Chesto rightly points out business leaders’ mixed record in supporting money to back their transportation appetite — some of them were part of the successful court challenge to putting a “millionaire’s tax” on the ballot, while business voices strongly backed indexing the gas tax to inflation, an effort they lost on the 2014 ballot.
Chesto say business leaders generally praise Baker’s turnaround efforts at the T. “But some privately grumble that the administration isn’t ambitious or aggressive enough with its repair plans or new projects,” he writes. Baker has tasked his former chief of staff, Steve Kadish, with helming a task force looking long-term at the state’s transportation picture. “But business leaders don’t want to wait two more decades for solutions,” writes Chesto.