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Testimony in Support of Transportation Reform and Revenue
Before Chairmen Steven Baddour and Joseph Wagner and members of the Joint Committee on Transportation
The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) is a non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy organization with members across the state. We are submitting this testimony in support of several bills aimed at increasing both the gas tax and the investment for public transportation in the commonwealth. These bills include HB 3188, HB 3312, HB 3326, HB 4033, and SB 1956.
As you well know, our entire transportation system is facing a severe funding crisis. Roads, bridges, highways, and public transportation agencies have an estimated $15-$19 billion funding deficit over the next twenty years that will be incurred just to maintain our current network. This gap will impact every state resident as our roads and bridges deteriorate and public transit is reduced.
The legislature is to be commended for enacting bold transportation reforms aimed at streamlining the commonwealth’s transportation agency. Those reforms will reduce overhead, bring transportation employee benefits in line with other state workers, and help to ensure that transportation projects are completed on time and within budget. But the benefits from the reform measures are likely to take a long time to materialize. In the meantime, our state’s transportation system remains locked in a financial crisis.
The solution to this problem is clear: new revenue. Several of the bills before the committee today propose to increase the state gasoline tax, and support public transportation by directing gas tax revenue to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the Regional Transit Authorities (RTA), and to projects aimed at fixing our crumbing roads and bridges. A gas tax increase would still keep our tax rates competitively priced against our New England neighbors and is an efficient way to fund our public transportation needs.
The MBTA has a crushing $8 billion debt burden inclusive of interest, as well as $2.7 billion in deferred maintenance needs, which were highlighted in the recent review of the MBTA authored by David D’Alessandro. The RTAs have grappled with increased energy costs that have resulted in fare hikes and service cuts. Across the state, residents and lawmakers want public transit expansions, but these expansions are unable to move forward because they simply lack the funds to do so.
Without action to address its debt, the MBTA will be forced to increase fares and to cut service. It will continue to defer maintenance and be forced to make the Hobson’s choice between offering service and providing a safe and affordable transportation system for the 1 million trips it makes each day.
Investing in public transportation benefits every Massachusetts resident. In 2006, automobile travel displaced by the MBTA saved 154 million gallons of fuel, which amounts to $403 million in savings. The T also prevents three days of traffic delays each year, and reduced carbon emissions by 1.2 million metric tons. That carbon reduction is the equivalent of taking 225,000 cars off the road everyday.
Economic growth created and sustained by a well-maintained transit system benefits the entire state. In addition, every person on the subway, bus, or commuter rail is one less automobile clogging our highways, using oil, causing accidents, and making auto insurance more expensive.
We at MASSPIRG appreciate the hard work that you and members of the committee have done. We look forward to continuing to work with you to address these issues.
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