When it comes to solving Boston’s transportation crisis, Mayor Marty Walsh has some advice for Beacon Hill: Be bold.
If not, let city leaders take the wheel.
The advice came during Walsh’s annual State of the City address Tuesday night, during which the second-term Democrat stressed that the city has made inroads in creating new bus lanes and making its streets safer, among progress on other transit initiatives.
But as for the MBTA, most of the plans are there. They just need the money to become a reality, Walsh said.
“Do more than repair the system of the past,” Walsh urged his state counterparts. “Invest in the future of our commonwealth. Mayors, business leaders, advocates — and commuters — will support you.
“And if you can’t move forward then let us lead,” he added, to applause.
Walsh, taking the podium for the seventh time to make his yearly remarks, laid out a vision to pour millions of dollars in new revenue into addressing pressing education and housing problems, too, the latter of which Walsh called “the biggest economic challenge our residents face.”
“As this decade begins, and our Boston century moves forward, we will keep working together, fighting together, and growing together so that all the people of Boston can thrive together — a city united and strengthened by our values,” he said.
Here are a few key points of the speech:
It’s time to let the people vote on transit projects, the mayor says
Boston traffic is notoriously gridlocked, and Walsh said he hears about it from residents all the time.
“Every day, I talk to people about their commutes,” he said. “What I hear, and see, are traffic jams, delayed trains, not enough buses. It’s not just a headache — it’s a threat to the future of our economy.”
While the city has taken some matters into its own hands, such as by christening new bus-only lanes, expanding its bike network, and demanding the MBTA add more service on the commuter rail’s Fairmount Line, there is more state officials can do, he said.
Just look at cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Indianapolis, he said.
Each one’s respective home state allows the public to vote on proposed transit projects and the revenue needed for each through regional ballot initiatives.
It’s time for Massachusetts to get onboard, Walsh said.
“It’s time to give people a voice,” he said. “For our economy, our environment, and our quality of life, it’s time for 21st-century transportation.”
The city wants to spend $500 million to build thousands of homes — but it needs the state to do its part, Walsh says
Walsh said soaring rents and home prices are starting to stabilize amid the city’s unprecedented building boom — a trend he credited to the city’s approach of building more housing to lessen demand on older housing stock.
“But they’re still too high for too many people,” he said. “There’s much more work to be done.”
Now, the city is working to pour $500 million over five years — “an unprecedented investment” — to build thousands of homes across incomes “from the most vulnerable to the middle class,” Walsh said. The first round would include $100 million, thereby doubling the city’s current investment.
But it will take some doing to get the money, according to Walsh.
He again looked toward state legislators, asking them to green light a Home Rule Petition passed by City Hall last month that would let the city impose a transfer tax of up to 2 percent on real estate transactions above $2 million.
The move would bring in $168 million a year for affordable housing, officials have said.
“I urge the Legislature to let us take this step, so we can ease housing pressures in neighborhoods like Brighton, Chinatown, and East Boston,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s administration would also seek to sell the city-owned Lafayette Garage downtown — which could create over $120 million — to bring in additional cash, he said.
Not everyone was immediately sold on the idea, however.
City Councilor Michelle Wu, highlighting and responding to components of the speech on Twitter Wednesday, wrote that the garage “is a stabilized asset (and) delivers an ongoing revenue stream to fund city services.”
“Exchanging this for a one-time cash windfall needs very specific justification,” she wrote.
Walsh, should his administration move forward with the plan, would need to bring the matter to the City Council for a vote.
Still, the new investment would help preserve subsidized housing, create homes affordable for senior citizens, and help “thousands more working people” in buying their first home through the Boston Home Center, Walsh said.
Also a first: Walsh said the city would issue “city-funded rental vouchers, so more low-income families can be stable and secure.”
“We believe in a Boston where housing is more than a commodity, it’s our community,” he said.
$100 million over the next three years will go into resources for Boston’s classrooms
Schools across Massachusetts are slated to receive billions of dollars in funding over the next seven years under a recently-passed landmark state law.
But Walsh said Boston students shouldn’t have to wait that long for the resources they need.
So, in addition to the state cash, the city will pour $100 million in new revenue for “direct classroom funding” over the next three years, according to Walsh.
“This level of planned new investment, over and above cost increases, has never been done before,” he said. “It will reach every school, and it will be carefully targeted, so every dollar makes a difference.”
Underperforming schools will receive the first influx of the new investments, which will provide for everything from new arts, STEM, and health programs to technology and social and emotional learning resources, Walsh said.
“We begin this decade by recommitting to the Boston we believe in,” he said. “We will lead with our values. We will work together across all our differences to tackle our toughest challenges. We will be a city that’s world class because it works for the middle class. And we will leave no one behind.”
Watch the full speech (Walsh’s remarks begin at 54:28):