Transportation Futures Podcast

November 17, 2009 |

“The days of highway expansion in Massachusetts are over,” declares James Aliosi, who stepped down last month as Secretary of Transportation. He said now is the time to act and particularly to level the playing field by developing passenger rail and public transit.

In our podcast today, he ticked off such benefits as sparking industrial development and job creation, improved public health and safety, and increased energy security. He figures that the federal government under President Barack Obama is ripe for aiding just such development. What we need here is a coalition of the affected group in all those areas, including transit specific, health, our legislative and executive branch leaders, energy and more.

We discussed some of the key issues in his 12-page exit letter he sent to Gov. Deval Patrick. These include funding rail projects, getting the MBTA solvent, shaking votes and funding from the legislature to enable transportation improvements, and making multi-modal transit practical for all of us.

Aloisi is not shy about proposing innovations. He’s a proponent for VMT (vehicle miles traveled) payments, as proven in other states. That is big here, where the legislature is frightened of raising the gas tax to pay for existing highway needs, much less 21st Century problems. He also talked about the  leadership and support he had from Lt. Gov. Tim Murry on making commuter and freight rail real and viable for us.

He calls for courage and leadership. Those should be on the part of the transportation and other activists he worked with and hoped to empower as secretary. Also that would be our governor, lieutenant governor and a cadre of state and U.S. legislators who are champions of these goals. He also named commonwealth mayors who already fight for improved transit and equitable funding. He says that the public really hasn’t been broadly sold on this shift, but that they are hungry for such change and for the leadership to get us there.

We dealt with funding issues, which are at the core of many of our transit woes here. He has no patience with what he calls the gimmicks, like refinancing unmanageable T debt. He calls that delaying the day of reckoning and hiding the problem so the the public isn’t aware of it and our lawmakers don’t have to deal with it. Instead, he said there needs to be a restructuring of that debt (including relief of the $2 billion Big Dig portion laid on the T, with that VMT and some combination of sales-tax allocation to make the system workable).

He calls for public pressure and now, not in five or two years. Listen in as he talks about what has to be done. Many progressives can bring these issues to their own organizations and be part of that catalyzing coalition he envisions.

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