Boston – A report released today makes recommendations for improving the process the State uses to prioritize transportation capital spending. By setting out a framework that relates policy objectives to investment decisions, the report, Transportation Capital Programming in Massachusetts, provides a starting point towards the development of a more transparent statewide and regional planning processes.
The report recommends an improved approach to project prioritization, incorporating the following practices: spending limited resources on the most cost-effective projects; selecting projects that help promote a consistent set of state policies, goals and objectives; maintaining an appropriate balance among system preservation, enhancement, and expansion projects, across modes and across geographic areas of the state; using objective criteria for review by the public, policy makers and the legislature; and utilizing the transparency of this process to generate trust and support for critical investments.
The report was released at an Understanding Boston event today at the Boston Foundation, with remarks by Douglas L. Foy, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office for Commonwealth Development, followed by a panel discussion led by Daniel A. Grabauskas, Secretary of Transportation of the Commonwealth. Panelists included Timothy W. Brennan, Executive Director, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission; Richard Dimino, President & CEO, Artery Business Committee; and Marc Draisen, Executive Director, Metropolitan Area Planning Council. The report will be the focus of regional meetings held across the state during the months ahead to discuss the proposed transportation evaluation criteria.
“The Governor and I are committed to seeing that state transportation decision-making is intelligent, clear and realistic,” said Secretary Foy. “The Boston Foundation work provides a valuable basis for the criteria we will use in our on-going work with the transportation community.”
The policy changes recommended in this report are seen to be especially crucial now, when the Central Artery/Tunnel project is nearing completion. “During the Central Artery/Tunnel era, the approach to setting other priorities for transportation investment in Massachusetts has been fragmented and reactive, with each key agency developing priorities somewhat in isolation,” said Marc Cutler, Senior Vice President of Cambridge Systematics, the national management and planning consulting company that prepared the report. “This study is intended to be a starting point to provide guidance to the State in moving toward a more systematic project selection process.”
The need for developing an explicit, policy-driven, performance-based framework and criteria for guiding transportation decisions was the basis for the Boston Foundation’s support for the study. “During times of economic constraint, informed decision-making is crucial. We commissioned this study to provide the basis for dialogue among transportation advocates and state, regional, and city leaders as they work together to make crucial investment decisions,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of The Boston Foundation. The report was prepared for the Boston Foundation by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., in coordination with the Office for Commonwealth Development and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Construction.
“We will ensure that our valuable transportation dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” said Secretary of Transportation Grabauskas. “I look forward to frank and constructive conversations as we develop our priorities.” The study focused on the two agencies that account for the majority of transportation spending in the State – the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).
The report suggests that, because fiscal constraints leave little margin for error, the decisions made today are likely to set the State’s transportation agenda for the next decade.
While acknowledging that politics can – and should – play a role in such processes, since it is, after all, the taxpayers’ money, the report suggests that objective processes and criteria can help inform the political process and establish priorities for the use of scarce resources. To this end, in the last two years state and regional agencies have already started to make significant progress. The MBTA has developed and applied objective criteria for selecting projects to go into its long-range Program for Mass Transportation, in the process reducing the project pipeline by some 75 percent. The MassHighway is currently working on a similar set of criteria to apply to highway projects. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) – the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Boston region – has developed similar criteria. This study is attempting to move these processes forward with its recommendations.
The major recommendations of the study are as follows:
The study, which is intended to be a starting point to provide guidance to the State in moving toward a more systematic project selection process, also encourages the following steps:
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The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of more than $570 million, made grants of $48 million to nonprofit organizations, and received gifts of $38 million last year. The Boston Foundation is made up of 750 separate charitable funds, which have been established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a civic leader, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to build community. For more information about the Boston Foundation and its grant making, visit www.tbf.org, or call 617-338-1700.
Cambridge Systematics provides management and planning consulting services and information systems to a broad mix of clients including local, state, national, and international agencies, and transportation, logistics and manufacturing companies. Founded in 1972 by four Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors and a transportation consultant, the firm now has offices in Oakland, California, Washington D.C., Chicago, Illinois, and Tallahassee, Florida, as well as in Cambridge. Cambridge Systematics applies its analytic skills in five specific areas: transportation planning and management,; intelligent transportation systems; commercial vehicle operations; asset management; and travel demand forecasting and market research.