Transportation and future society | City of Ideas

Posted 04/11/2013 by Paul S. Grogan

 Our report, "The Cost of Doing Nothing", was written by Toni Horst and researchers at the respected consulting firm AECOM, with a mission reflected in its title. What would it mean for the state if we, for political, cost-containment or other reasons, fail to bring our transportation infrastructure back up to a state of good repair?

Doing nothing, it turns out, has a significant cost. AECOM found Massachusetts stands to lose between $17 and $26 billion in productivity and economic impact, and as many as 15,000 jobs by 2030 if we do not address our transportation needs.  And that merely includes one aspect of the transportation problem - highways. It doesn't include expansion of rail or other transportation infrastructure. It doesn't account for businesses that look to Massachusetts and then decide not to come, or those that decide the loss in productivity and other costs caused by traffic, added wear and tear on equipment and other transportation-related issues are no longer worth it and move out of state.

And it doesn't account for something else - what our failure to invest in transportation infrastructure says about our values.

Throughout history, and in recent years, the city of Boston and Massachusetts as a whole have invested heavily in future-oriented development. Whether we look at physical investments, such as the massive landfill that turned Back Bay and other Boston neighborhoods from bays and wetlands into valuable streetscapes and business districts, or more human ones, such as our investments in education, affordable health care, marriage equality, we can find great examples of issues where Massachusetts leaders recognized the value of investing present-day dollars to provide future benefits.

This transportation issue is another of those critical moments - and it is not an easy one. Our political leaders must walk the balance between keeping the current economic interests of the state and the apparent fragility of our recovery with the knowledge that waiting - kicking the can down a deteriorating road, if you will - only means the costs of rebuilding will rise even as the problems weaken our ability to pay them.

Today's forum, the presentation and the panel discussion with Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, Tom O'Brien of HYM Investments and Doug McGarrah of Foley Hoag, highlighted the challenges and needs of our current system. But the remarks at the event's end, by Rep. William Strauss and Sen. Thomas McGee, chairs of the Joint Legislative Committee on Transportation, provided a ray of hope. The lawmakers made it clear that there is still a wide gulf between where they are now and where the Governor wants them to be in dollar terms. But neither sounded as though he thought walking away or applying a cosmetic patch was an acceptable option.

Reconciling the various plans for transportation will not be easy, but the case for a clear, comprehensive investment in our transportation infrastructure and its impact on our economic competitiveness, our ability to ship products, reduce costs and attract and retain talented workers has resonated.

Now it's a question of how far our political leaders can go in respecting current constraints while embracing this critical opportunity to make a responsible investment that our future depends on.

Doing nothing has its costs. But doing "just enough" is the equivalent of applying a temporary patch on a pothole. It won't be long before an even bigger fix is needed.

Posted in