SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 13, 2013

Column: Transportation bill is a chance to get things right

In the coming weeks, six senators and representatives will meet in a conference committee to reconcile the differences between transportation finance legislation that passed in the House and Senate. We urge legislators to carefully consider ways to make the final bill as strong, fair and long-lasting as possible, because there is a lot at stake for the North Shore and for the whole commonwealth.

Transportation investments are not a “wish list.” They are a “must list,” because getting around safely and affordably is absolutely essential.

First, let’s consider the big picture. After years of inaction while our transportation systems have decayed, the Legislature is finally working to correct these problems — and not a moment too soon. Gridlock, potholes, overcrowding and unsafe bridges are some of the most visible issues. Residents of every North Shore community can attest to that.

But just as important are the hidden problems with the way we have financed transportation: For years, the state has used borrowed money to pay for operations and salaries. With interest, that means that taxpayers are paying $1.76 for every dollar we spend, foisting a huge credit card bill on future generations. Due to significant reform measures, outdated labor practices are on the way out, but they have left behind a climate of distrust that will be with us for a long while. And lastly, payments required for the Big Dig have shortchanged worthy projects all across the state. To be sure, reform is nowhere near complete, and the Legislature is right to demand results.

So we have a long way to go, but the Legislature and the governor have made a good start. By consolidating transportation agencies in 2009, legislating reforms to improve cost efficiency and shed costly practices, and developing a long-term vision, the commonwealth has finally shown a willingness to tackle transportation. And now, reform is inseparable from funding.

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