Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack recently gave a briefing on all things transportation in the Commonwealth before a capacity crowd at a NAIOP event. With transportation one of the top issues for real estate developers, businesses and residents across Massachusetts, the Secretary’s presentation was thorough, brimming with data and references to the many reports that form the foundational work guiding the state’s Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

Given our extensive work in the real estate and corporate sectors, these are some of the highlights from the Secretary’s address that we were most interested in hearing:

Revenue

With transportation funding expected to be taken up soon by the Legislature, the Secretary shared her thoughts on the matter. Pollack noted that the conversation needs to address three essential questions to be fully productive:

  • How much capital is needed (i.e., accurately estimate the project before requesting funding)?
  • What is the schedule for ramping up spending (with such a large expenditure, it must be gradual)?
  • Is there alignment between the capital need and the benefits to prospective funders?

Citing MassDOT’s long term capital plans, the Secretary stated that additional state funding is not needed because it has already been sourced and is being appropriated for various projects.

Top of mind for most attendees, is public transportation, especially given recent MBTA shutdowns. The Secretary said that when the new Red Line cars come online, the MBTA will target three-minute intervals between trains. That level of service would accommodate 65,000 additional passengers during rush hour, an efficiency that would provide greater capacity improvements than an expansion project—good news to all who heard it.

Boston Traffic - Seaport Boston - Boston Waterfront - Traffic CongestionMitigating Disruption

The reality is that MassDOT must balance maintenance and upgrade projects with inconvenience to commuters, ranging from delays and disruptions to full closures. To make her point, Secretary Pollack showed how a construction project could be completed within a month by fully shutting down the site during that time. While efficient, this would present commuters with substantial difficulties, as opposed to the night and weekend closures favored by MassDOT. The Secretary also pointed out that procurement/project reform would enable maintenance and upgrades to be completed more quickly and possibly at lower cost. This, she said, is her biggest wish.

Housing

As we all know, transportation and housing are intrinsically linked. Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues driving congestion, and one way to help mitigate this issue would be for people to live closer to where they work. To a room full of developers, she cited the need for more housing to be built throughout the Commonwealth. Building our way out of gridlock won’t happen with more lanes on the highway, she said, but it could happen through the production of housing, especially near transit hubs.

Boston Traffic - Seaport Boston - Boston Waterfront - Traffic Congestion

Development

Pollack offered some insight into how MassDOT contemplated the Green Line Extension when the project’s budget increased by a billion dollars. She explained that because so much development was being planned around the Extension, canceling the project would have been felt well beyond transportation circles. Without that holistic view, she said, the project may not have gone forward.

Climate Change

Secretary Pollack stated what we all know: with transportation the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s incumbent upon transportation professionals to drive change. That’s why emission reduction will be a priority for MassDOT for the foreseeable future.

Everyone has a stake in our mass transit system. Hearing directly from Secretary Pollack offered the business community a window into how MassDOT is approaching the many challenges facing Massachusetts’ transportation system.