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When it comes to transportation policy, Mass. Governor Mitt Romney’s priorities are only too clear.
As part of the 1990 legal agreement to begin the Big Dig highway project, Massachusetts promised to fund a number of desperately needed public transportation projects in order to ameliorate the increased pollution and traffic that the new highway would generate. But the Romney administration has consistently downsized, delayed, or outright terminated most of the projects that were included in the 1990 agreement, choosing instead to divert transportation funds to other expensive highway projects and mass transit extensions that would primarily benefit the Commonwealth’s more affluent residents.
Among the most needed of the 1990 projects is an extension of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line from its Lechmere terminus to the northwest through Somerville and Medford. Somerville, one of the largest—and most underserved—communities in the metropolitan area, has only one T stop (in Davis Square), and that’s at the very edge of the town. It also suffers from notoriously poor air quality, a product of the massive I-93 superstructure that snakes its way through what was once the city’s prime real estate. There is an urgent need for expanded public transit in this area, but the Romney administration has so far offered only manipulative lip service and obfuscation. Last May, the Commonwealth loudly announced that it was going to begin the project, only to quietly indicate seven months later that there would be a three-year delay before any construction began.
And it’s not just Somerville that is being shortchanged by Romney’s disregard for the Commonwealth’s obligations. The original agreement also called for the resumption of Green Line service to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, which has been “suspended” for over two decades, leaving residents there to rely on spotty bus service. No plans currently exist to restore this service. Also included in the agreement is a connection between the MBTA Red and Blue Lines at the Charles/MGH station, which would aid public transit commuters from East Boston and decongest the seriously overcrowded central stations. The Romney administration has essentially killed this project, citing a lack of available funds.
State transportation funds, however, are in anything but short supply. The Romney administration is only choosing to divert them to less worthy projects. Progress is proceeding rapidly on the $500 million Greenbush commuter rail line, which will serve Boston’s South Shore, home to some of the Commonwealth’s most affluent communities. The Somerville/Medford Green Line extension, by contrast, is estimated to cost $559 million, virtually the same as the Greenbush line. The state is also rushing to complete the $60 million Sagamore Flyover project, which will ease the commute between Cape Cod and the mainland. Early in his governorship, Romney promised to resign if the Flyover was not built. It says much about Romney’s priorities that he would choose to stake his political career on the Flyover project, which does little more than convenience tourists, instead of any of the 1990 projects, which promise to dramatically improve air quality and provide less affluent Massachusetts residents with reliable and efficient transportation.
For two decades, the Big Dig project has dominated the Commonwealth’s transportation priorities. Now, as the project lumbers toward its completion, the Commonwealth must return to the needs of those who are unable to directly benefit from the new tunnels and bridges—those, indeed, who rely on public transit for their livelihood. It’s time for Gov. Romney to get his priorities straight.
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