Richard A. Davey, the state’s transportation secretary, has done a lot of traveling in the last few weeks. He’ll tell you that himself, as he did at a Department of Transportation meeting earlier this month.
“North Andover, Woburn, Arlington, Hyannis,” Davey began. “Medford, Worcester, Framingham, Fall River, Wakefield, Burlington, and Plymouth.”
Since Governor Deval Patrick announced in January his plan to use new tax revenue to inject $13 billion into the state’s transportation system over the next decade, Davey has been crisscrossing the state.
His message: There’s something in the governor’s bill for everyone.
Patrick’s plan and a critical mass of political will has presented an opportunity to put the state’s roads, bridges, and public transit systems on solid footing for generations to come, proponents say.
While it appears the Legislature will fund some, but not all, of Patrick’s proposed projects, what ends up on the cutting-room floor may be a direct product of how well Davey and other transportation officials are able to deliver their message. Their aggressive outreach efforts have reached the feverish tone of an all-out election campaign, and has a Twitter hashtag: #ChooseGrowth.
“It’s really unprecedented,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, on Davey’s crusade. “In all my years, I don’t recall such a single-minded campaign by a nonelected state official.”
Some critics view the campaigning as a political ploy meant to convince residents with far-fetched transportation promises.
But others, like Marc Draisen , believe Davey’s strategy makes sense.
Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, an organization focused on city planning and transportation, said taxpayers need to be convinced that their tax dollars will translate into meaningful improvements — especially in a state still stinging from the legacy of the Big Dig and mistrustful of massive, costly transportation projects.
“They’ll go anywhere to talk about this subject,” Draisen said. “We’ve heard their basic line over and over: We can’t afford the transportation system we have, much less the transportation system we want.”
Davey must boil down an elaborate, 63-page report into simple selling points, tailor-made for each community he visits.
In Northampton: Want better regional bus service? Tell your representative you want tax increases.
In Stockbridge: Want a train running from the Berkshires to New York City? Ask your legislators for tax increases.
And in late January, at a transportation forum for the Metro-West region, Davey came prepared with numbers on how each town could tackle more bread-and-butter road repairs and pothole fixes.
A Wayland selectman in the audience raised his hand, asking how his town would benefit.
“I happen to have a Wayland statistic in front of me — how about that?” Davey said, prompting chuckles. Wayland’s funding for road projects, he said, would more than double to $700,000 per year.
And when Southborough’s economic development officer asked what his town stands to gain, Davey had an answer for him, too. Last year, Davey said, the town got $231,000 for road and bridge projects.
With Patrick’s plan, he said, the town would receive $650,000 per year.
“This is not just transportation dollars that are going to evaporate into the air,” Davey said. “These are specific projects and specific resources that we are going to deliver.”
Other transportation officials have also worked to deliver the message. After a frayed cable caused a large span of the Green Line to shut down on one of the coldest mornings of the year, Beverly A. Scott, MBTA general manager, asked technicians to save a portion of the frayed wire.
“I am going to take it on the road with me,” she said.
Sure enough, she appeared on TV a few days later, the corroded, mangled cable in hand.
“Literally, when you have something as old as this . . . the old girl just gave out,” Scott told Fox 25’s Doug “VB” Goudie . “You can’t sit up and have 5 or 6 billion dollars in terms of deferral of maintenance and infrastructure, and just have the expectation that these systems are going to operate with no additional investment.”
Stephanie Pollack, associate director at Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, said the campaign efforts could be criticized for focusing too heavily on grandiose new projects — expensive investments like the South Coast Rail — rather than the roughly 80 percent of the plan that will go toward bridge and road repair, paying off debts, and much-needed transit maintenance.Continued...