Growing support for regional ballot initiatives to fund our transportation future

The Gateway Cities Journal

The Governor’s Commission on the Future of Transportation envisions a high-performance regional rail system connecting urban centers across the Commonwealth to Boston’s talent, R&D, and global relationships. This strategy leverages existing commuter rail infrastructure to generate more balanced economic development throughout the state. However, it still requires a considerable investment. We will need to modernize the commuter rail, provide more frequent service, and improve mobility in the station areas so that people can safely make last mile connections. With the funding currently available for transportation, the state is struggling mightily just to maintain and operate the MBTA’s core system.

At the urging of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, business leaders have come together to help identify new strategies to pay for a transportation system that can support future growth. A recent forum hosted by Biogen is one example. While the meeting took place in Kendall Square, it drew business leaders from all over the commonwealth and included a presentation by former state senator Ben Downing. Speaking from the perspective of a legislator who represented Pittsfield-a community where residents dependent on RTA buses find themselves immobilized on nights and weekends-he called attention to the promise of regional ballot initiatives (RBIs) for both Greater Boston and regions in the state with very different transportation needs.

With Senator Downing’s leadership, the Senate passed RBI legislation empowering communities to put transportation funding measures before the voters in 2016. Last year, Springfield State Senator Eric Lesser led the successful effort to attach similar provisions to an economic development bill. Unfortunately, this RBI language did not make it into the final version of the legislation.

At a hearing last week, the Joint Committee on Revenue heard testimony on this session’s RBI bill. Support for the approach is steadily growing. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has joined a number of Gateway City mayors who have endorsed RBIs. Once again, MassINC provided testimony in favor of the legislation.

The MBTA is now in a crisis and it’s likely that this session a revenue package will emerge that wins support in both chambers. The big question is whether the funding solution will enable future growth throughout the commonwealth or simply meet a narrower need to keep the trains running In Boston. The answer likely hinges on whether the legislature is ready and willing to empower regions to invest in their transportation futures.

Housing and Economic Development

Downtown Worcester is having a moment: Moonshiners Country Bar will soon open in Worcester’s

Canal District. Top consulting firm Blumshapiro is opening a new office downtown. A Worcester panel backs financing for new downtown apartments to be built in an empty warehouse. And Grafton St may soon be widened to accommodate increased traffic.

Downtown Springfield isn’t far behind. New restaurants approved this week include both Japanese and New American cuisine.

Fall River welcomes two new local restaurants: a Spanish buffet and Haitian cuisine.

New Bedford’s “Blue Lane” project is set to receive $35,000 in a MassTrails planning grant to improve the trail and transit corridor.

The Lynn Item covers a recent MassINC Transformative Transit-Oriented Development event focused on the North Shore.

Apartments in Lynn’s Tannery I will officially remain classified as affordable for another 40 years.

Brockton scores $300,000 in funding to assess brownfields and provide technical assistance for the redevelopment of downtown properties. Meanwhile, the Brockton Redevelopment Authority targets even more downtown properties for
acquisition and revival.

MassDevelopment issues a guide on District Improvement Financing.

The Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program reports on where jobs are concentrating and why it matters to cities and regions.

Governing highlights a “path to reinvigoration” for small cities through infrastructure investment.

The American Planning Association releases its first guide to planning for equity.


Educators in Brockton are recognized for their work on an innovative dual-language immersion program, the Globe reports.

Parents in Fall River join a lawsuit against the state over public school funding.

Lowell middle school is set to receive $1 million over three years in a dramatic turnaround plan.

Salem releases a draft of an innovative high school turnaround plan.

In a conversation with Paul Foster of the Springfield Public Schools, MassINC’s Ben Forman investigates the promise of local accountability through the new podcast Gateways.

The director of the EduNomics lab suggests that state-level GAOs could rein in school finances across the country once and for all.


Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera continues to reshape the police force, announcing a committee to determine the next chief.

Lowell radically changes its local elections process, addressing concerns of voter equity.

Salem announces free wi-fi to the community in all city buildings.

Employees of the city of Pittsfield are honored in a new photo project.


An MIT study illuminates the ways low-income urban riders utilize public transportation in and around Boston.

Free trolley rides for Salem residents are back.

The MBTA commuter rail is “on a roll,” says Bruce Mohl at Commonwealth Magazine.

Creative Placemaking

The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center scores a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Can historic preservation – especially in a state as old as Massachusetts – “cool down” a hot neighborhood?

The demands for “place” are reshaping our communities, finds the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program, but the question of how to equitably disperse the benefits remains largely unanswered.

NPR chronicles the rise of the “chow mein sandwich” in Fall River, a testament to bustling and diverse immigrant communities coming together around the dinner table.

Communities & People

MassDevelopment says thank you to departing TDI Fellows and posts a position for a new opening in Chicopee.

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