A Make or Break Moment for Gateway City Renewal
Gateway Cities Journal
With all the eye-popping numbers flying around in relation to the stimulus bills, federal budget, and infrastructure deal, you might think our transportation woes are solved.
But down in the trenches, Massachusetts communities still lack many of the basic tools used around the country to control their own destiny. Even the most compelling projects can sit for decades on a region’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) awaiting capital funds. And operating budgets, fare policy, and service levels are essentially set on Beacon Hill.
Here are three commonsense mechanisms the Legislature should approve quickly to ensure that Gateway Cities have the ability to prioritize transportation projects in their regions and finance them sustainably.
- Transit Improvement Districts (TIDs). Michele Ciccolo’s H.3426, “An Act to Generate Revenue to Expand Transit Options,” would enable communities to supplement existing transit through public-private partnerships. Modeled in part on business improvement districts, TIDs could be formed after a local petition process, public hearing, and vote of the local legislative body. It’s an innovative alternative to private shuttles offered by employers and housing developments, ensuring greater public oversight, access, and investment.
- Regional Ballot Initiatives. Included in Sen. Joe Boncore’s New Deal for Transportation bill (S.2265) as well as standalone bills S.1899/H.3086 filed by Sen. Eric Lesser, Rep. Andy Vargas, and Rep. Adrian Madaro, regional ballot initiatives are one of the most important funding mechanisms for transportation projects in the United States. They empower voters to vote directly on key projects. Outside of Massachusetts, this is how nearly every recent public transportation improvement has been financed.
- Value Capture. Wiliam Straus’s bill H.3608, “An Act Relative to Transportation Infrastructure Value Capture” should be part of the toolbox. Public infrastructure investments can create tremendous property value, and at times it makes sense to capture some of the corresponding increase in property taxes to pay for the infrastructure needs of that district. This is already done sometimes through negotiated agreements with developers, the Straus bill could improve this ad hoc approach by requiring upfront planning and extending it over an entire district. Of course, value capture is not a panacea and should be balanced with other goals, including building the tax base in low-wealth municipalities and creating a vibrant, livable neighborhood.
These concepts are not new to Beacon Hill. Over the years, municipal leaders from across the country have come to the State House to describe firsthand the success they have enjoyed with these tools. Gateway City mayors have asked for similar opportunities to chart their own destiny. But now the make-or-break moment is upon us. These once-in-a-generation federal investments will have muted impact on our growing commonwealth if Gateway Cities remain ill-positioned to successfully draw the funds.
To read the full MassINC testimony on transportation revenue bills, click here.To read our testimony on low-income and zero-fare bills, click here.
To read our testimony on the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Advancement bills, click here.