In stark contrast to its annual number 1 ranking for energy efficiency, Massachusetts is perpetually nearly at the back of the pack for traffic and infrastructure. The fundamental problems of transportation for our state are as old as our state. Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent to ease the flow of traffic in recent decades, and yet the congestion bounced back to surpass previous levels. To make matters worse, greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles is now the leading source of climate-disrupting pollution in our state. That’s why, as Massachusetts lawmakers, we can no longer stand by and allow modern, clean transportation solutions to go unfunded.
Governor Baker recently filed a transportation bond bill that includes investments to help curb emissions and invest in clean technology to protect the environment and public health. The bill would allocate up to half of the revenue generated by the Transportation & Climate Initiative(TCI) – a regional cap and invest plan under development with other Northeast states -- to fund transit statewide including MBTA and regional transit agencies.
Massachusetts residents have a vested interest in the wide spectrum of transportation issues that TCI aims to solve. These are sweeping issues that affect all of us, including public health, climate change, expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, the emerging clean economy, clean, efficient and accessible public transit, and transportation equity. Public health is a huge factor at stake from growing transportation emissions, with air pollution being a significant contributor to chronic respiratory illness.
The challenge of developing an equitable transportation system must be a top priority in Massachusetts. In a new analysis, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that African American, Asian American and Latino residents in our state face significantly higher exposure to pollutants known as PM 2.5—airborne particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. The UCS study showed Latino residents are exposed to 17 percent more pollution from on-road vehicles than the state average. African American residents face 24 percent higher exposure, and Asian Americans 26 percent higher exposure.
Based on the UCS data collected, the most polluted census tracts in Massachusetts are concentrated in downtown Boston, along the I-90 and I-93 corridors and in gateway cities like Fall River, Springfield, Lawrence, Lowell and New Bedford. In these areas, over half of the residents are people of color.
TCI is working to correct this and to create a more equitable transportation system that reduces vehicle emissions and invests in a modern, clean transportation future for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. In December 2018, Massachusetts committed to design and create a market-based program over the course of 2019 to limit transportation pollution.
The benefits of modernizing transportation are huge. By one estimate, a regional approach could cut transportation climate pollution by 40 percent, create more than 100,000 new jobs, significantly reduce asthma attacks and preventable deaths, and put $14.4 billion in families’ pockets – all by 2030. These benefits would make a real difference in our everyday personal lives.
A recent survey from the Sierra Club shows strong support for making this vision a reality in Massachusetts and other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The Transportation Modernization Survey, carried out for the Sierra Club by Public Policy Polling (PPP), shows broad-based, bipartisan, support for a regional coalition of states to implement modern clean transportation solutions. In Massachusetts, 76 percent of voters support state action to clean up transportation pollution.
The majority of voters in Massachusetts understand that a modernized transportation system would mean cleaner air and better health for everyone. Much has been accomplished to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants. Now, tackling transportation emissions is the next big hurdle. Doing so would save thousands of lives, reduce hospital ER admissions, asthma attacks suffered by children, and dangers posed to the health of those pregnant.
Residents who support these efforts or who simply want to learn more about it can get involved in the process directly over the next few weeks.
Massachusetts is hosting a series of community input workshops around TCI in Springfield, Chelsea and Fall River between August 7-22. Local residents can join these sessions to learn more about how Massachusetts is working with other states to develop a regional policy to reduce transportation emissions and deliver a cleaner, climate resilient transportation system that benefits all our communities.
In the coming weeks, Massachusetts residents have a great opportunity to provide input on TCI and take part in our clean transportation future. Don’t let it pass you by.
Lori Ehrlich is a State Representative for the Massachusetts 8th Essex District. Eric Lesser is a member of the Massachusetts State Senate, representing 1st Hampden and Hampshire District.