Let’s Improve Our Roads without Raising Taxes
By Senator Richard T. Moore
October 9, 2012 ... Recently, the state’s Department of Transportation (MassDOT) initiated a statewide series of public meetings to discuss what is needed and how to achieve a cost effective, safe and reliable transportation system for the entire Commonwealth. For decades deferred maintenance and a lack of prioritization of projects has led to a backlog of needed projects that will cost billions of dollars. The task facing the Legislature in the 2013-2014 term is to determine what we can afford – both now and in the future – and how we to pay for the roads, bridges, transit, bikeways, and more that residents of the Commonwealth want.
In South Central Massachusetts, we need to improve commuter rail services, perhaps by extending the Franklin Forge Park line over the revitalized Grafton and Upton Railroad to Hopedale, and looking at passenger service on the Providence and Worcester Railroad. We also need to develop bus routes from Southbridge to Worcester.
The section of Route 146 from Boston Road in Sutton to the Millbury Mall exit needs substantial improvements to improve safety and eliminate bottlenecks at Boston Road. Traffic signals are needed at places like the Route 122-Quaker Highway intersection near the Court House in Uxbridge now that the new Uxbridge High School is open and at Route 16 and West Hartford Avenue in Mendon, as well as maintaining the roads and bridges we already have. There are also alternative transportation modes such as the Blackstone Valley Greenway/Bikeway and the Quinebaug Rail Trail that need funding.
In addition to state road and bridge needs, every town in the region urgently needs additional Chapter 90 highway aid and assistance with the costs of school and senior citizen/disabled persons transportation. Similar needs can be found in every district across the state. With federal deficits continuing to grow, Massachusetts cannot rely on any increase in federal highway aid, yet all of these projects and more are important for long-term economic growth, and provide needed construction jobs and better access to permanent jobs for the rest of us. How can we afford our future transportation needs?
First, the state transportation agencies need to do a better job reducing waste and inefficiency and promoting performance measurement. The Legislature made a start in this direction with the passage of a major transportation reform in 2009 that is just beginning to pay off. In the two years since Transportation Reform went into effect, MassDOT has changed the way of doing business, found new and efficient ways of providing service and improved customer service across the various transportation modes. In addition, MassDOT has implemented more than 90% of the recommendations issued in 2007 by the Transportation Finance Commission. Better management by making sure fares on buses and trains are collected from every rider is also important to restore public confidence in mass transit services.
Second, we need to collect all the taxes that are owed before we even think about any new taxes. Certainly, this is not the time to increase gas taxes given the rising costs at the pump. We also need to be cautious about any increase in Turnpike tolls and mass transit fares since that would also eat away at the middle class struggling to get to work. On the other hand, it appears “T” ridership has increased since fares were raised and a combination of subsidies and user fees are always on the table.
However, Massachusetts, and most other states with sales taxes, are not collecting sales taxes that are owed by those who shop on the Internet. This state, alone, fails to collect over $350 million a year through online purchases and the total is growing every year. Furthermore, the competition with Internet sales is harming local retailers and leaving empty storefronts in our communities. If most of this lost revenue could be collected, and dedicated to transportation financing, it could support substantial bonding capacity that would provide a substantial source of funding state and local transportation projects without raising current tax rates or enacting new taxes. The stimulus from this construction and mass transit effort would be a further boost to our economic recovery as well.
Sen. Richard T. Moore represents fourteen towns in South Central Massachusetts. He serves on the Committees on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and Tourism, the Arts and Cultural Development, as well as the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. He welcomes constituent comments and suggestions.
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