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MICHAEL E. CAPUANO

Romney inertia hinders transit projects

THE MASSACHUSETTS congressional delegation has a solid record of securing our fair share of federal transportation funds, but fiscal restraints in Washington -- plus the Big Dig -- make that job more difficult. To remain competitive in the battle for new federal transportation funding, Massachusetts must have its transportation planning process in order. Instead, we see growing evidence of the Romney administration's failure to plan adequately for our transportation future.

 

The long-delayed submission of a transportation bond bill this month is the latest case in point: Romney reportedly won't finalize his transportation priorities for at least nine months. Why craft a transportation bond bill if you haven't figured out which projects will move forward? Moreover, Romney has stated for almost a year that he is preparing a transportation blueprint, yet now we learn residents might have to wait months for this road map.

The single biggest problem is the state's inability to meet federal matching fund rules. The governor's decision to proceed with the 100 percent state-funded Greenbush Line (a worthwhile project) highlights this administration's planning and funding inadequacies. Last year's report on MBTA capital spending prepared by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation concluded: "The only way the T can pay for expansion projects is by failing to fund adequately maintenance and modernization of the current system." The report also stated: "The T can afford Greenbush -- and nothing else -- only if it continues inadequate levels of spending on the current system." A recent decision by the Federal Transit Administration effectively confirmed those concerns. The agency listed the T's Silver Line Phase III project as "not recommended," concerned that the T cannot maintain and operate its system while simultaneously funding the project. What is the Romney administration's planning and prioritization process, and where is its long-term funding solution?

The governor jump-started Greenbush even though his long-term plan wasn't done, taking money off the table and depriving residents of the opportunity to understand how it stacks up against other equally worthy projects.

This administration's failure to follow through on promises relative to the Big Dig also threatens continued federal funding. The state's environmental affairs secretary, Ellen Roy Herzfelder, raised concerns about these unkept, legally binding promises, most of which relate to mass transit projects. Failure to comply could result in $25,000-a-day federal fines or the withholding of all federal transportation funds. Romney must explain how and when the state will fulfill these promises. And where will the funding come from?

Finally, there are concerns about the state's future ability to meet matching requirements for other transportation projects not related to the MBTA. With the state still facing fiscal challenges and communities suffering from local aid cuts, the governor must explain how he will match federal funding for vital projects across Massachusetts.

Since Romney ruled out new taxes, what if Massport pays its fair share of Big Dig expenses? The Ted Williams Tunnel and related roadways mainly benefit Massport. Those segments of the Big Dig account for about $7 billion. Yet Massport is slated to contribute only $325 million. Additional contributions by Massport toward its fair share of Big Dig costs would leverage even more federal funding. For example, if Massport contributed the $100 million it has earmarked for a new runway, that money could leverage up to $400 million more in federal funds.

Romney doesn't have to stop there. He recently proposed merging the Massachusetts Highway Department and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, in part to create revenue and streamline operations. If his arguments in favor of this proposal are accurate and fair, then why not make Massport subject to the same approach? Hundreds of millions more in revenue might be made available for matching federal funds.

State Senator Steven Baddour, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, recently reported that Massachusetts has the second-worst highways and third-worst bridges in America. Citizens deserve better.

The Commonwealth is desperately in need of leadership to solve our transportation problems. For the sake of our economy and the safety of our citizens, Romney should complete that blueprint we've all been waiting to see.

He should also seek a broad spectrum of input rather than unilaterally setting transportation priorities that will affect development, environment, and public safety for decades to come.

US Representative Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts is a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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