SALEM — While it may not be the Declaration of Independence, members of the North Shore Coalition used black markers Friday morning to sign a vision statement calling for a fix to the region’s underfunded, crumbling and congested transportation infrastructure.
Local officials who make up the coalition say the clogged roads, failing bridges and infrequent trains and buses will leave the region’s housing and workplace needs in the dust if something is not done soon. Suggested ways to pay for this 21 century North Shore transportation revolution include a 15-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax, surcharges on transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber, more equitable tolling, and more ways cities and towns can raise revenue to fix local roads and bridges.
“Far too long, the North Shore’s transportation has been underfunded,” the vision statement says. “Our region has been depending on a crumbling infrastructure that must be updated to enhance our residents’ quality of life, the vitality of our businesses and educational institutions, and our natural and recreational treasures.”
The statement calls for the creation of a diverse transportation network for walking, biking, transit and cars “that provides access and mobility to all.”
Future transportation investments would reduce emissions from greenhouse gases and be resilient to climate change effects.
Among the guiding principals and goals is that there would be various solutions, depending on whether one lives in mostly rural Hamilton or in downtown Salem.
The vision statement was the result of work by the North Shore Coalition, which is made up of representatives from 18 cities and towns both large and small, urban and rural, whose discussions were facilitated by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
State lawmakers on hand for the discussion included state Sens. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn; and state Reps. Paul Tucker, D-Salem; Tom Walsh, D-Peabody; Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers; and Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, among others.
The signing of the vision statement took place at the end of an hour-long, standing room only, gathering of more than 90 people, which was moderated by Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll at the Enterprise Center at Salem State University.
Driscoll said there is a collective sense of urgency to address local congestion, while making sure people can still commute to Boston.
Colin Codner, executive director of the Greater Lynn Chamber of Commerce, said Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent study on congestion found it was at a tipping point, with the weekends being just as congested as the weekdays.
This traffic means customers are having a hard time to get to businesses, and workers are also having a hard time getting to their jobs on time.
“At the end of the day, no one wants to be late to work,” Codner said.
Others who spoke included Brian Cranney, president of Cranney Companies of Danvers, who talked about the stress traffic puts on his plumbing and heating technicians, and dispatchers; and Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill, who sits on the MBTA Rail Vision Advisory Committee, which he said has recommended a full electrification of the commuter rail system and the lowering of platforms to street level to cut down on trip times.
Hamilton Town Manager Joseph Domelowicz said all 18 communities agreed to try and green their vehicle fleets. However, the challenge is while it’s easy to buy an EV cruiser, large trucks that account for much of a community’s fleet are not readily available.
Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee, a former state senator and former chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, said the North Shore has lagged on investments in its roads and bridges in the past 50 years. He spelled out the funding options lawmakers should take up.
These include an increase in the gas tax by at least 15 cents a gallon to raise an additional $450 million a year, given the gas tax is relatively low compared with other states. The state’s gas tax stands at 24 cents per gallon and it was last raised by 3 cents in 2013. Registration and inspection fees would also be raised. Bay State residents voted to repeal automatic increases to the gas tax, indexed for inflation, in 2014.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.