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March 7, 2013

Report urges stepped-up push for transit reform

BOSTON — While backing the addition of new revenue sources to pay for transportation system investments, a new report commissioned by two major business trade groups says public support for new revenues, which could include higher taxes and fees, will depend on implementing a series of reform recommendations focused on improved performance, planning and reporting.

The report, prepared by transportation experts for the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, calls for implementation of basic systems governing agency performance, transparency and communication with the public, on-time project delivery, and asset and project information systems.

The report is based on the work of the University of Wisconsin-based State Smart Transportation Initiative, which includes members from 19 state transportation departments. Its recommendations were drafted after a review of state documents and feedback from dozens of Massachusetts transportation officials and business officials.

“Massachusetts transportation agencies lack sufficient revenue to fulfill their critical role in advancing the Commonwealth’s economy,” the report said. “Beacon Hill recognizes that reality, but as lawmakers consider proposals to fund the Massachusetts transportation system, they and the public alike correctly want to know that revenues going to transportation agencies are and will be correctly spent.”

The report recognizes MassDOT’s progress implementing reforms called for in a 2009 law and “major advances in integrating a formerly disjointed transportation bureaucracy.” Reviewers singled out the following initiatives:

A $2.9 billion Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) that allowed MassDOT to use design/build contracts to speed the project development process and permitted the department to reimburse utilities for the work they undertook on the bridge projects;

A GreenDOT policy, announced in 2010, that “pushes MassDOT’s managers and staff to innovate in order to provide transportation more sustainably.” The agency “is at the forefront in moving into the post-Interstate era, stressing multimodalism and system preservation, rather than more lane-miles”;

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