Andre Leroux offers testimony to Joint Committee on Transportation

On transportation revenue bills

The Honorable William Straus, House Chair

The Honorable Joseph Boncore, Senate Chair Joint Committee on Transportation

State House, Room 134 Boston, MA 02133

via email

 

RE: Support for new transportation revenue—local revenue tools are especially important to enable Gateway Cities and surrounding communities to solve their regional transit challenges
– H. 3426 (Ciccolo) An Act to Generate Revenue to Expand Transit Options
– S. 2265 (Boncore) An Act Creating a New Deal for Transportation in the Commonwealth
– H. 3608 (Straus) An Act Relative to Transportation Infrastructure Value Capture

 

Dear Chairmen Straus and Boncore,

I write on behalf of MassINC to encourage you to draft and report out a comprehensive transportation revenue bill this session that includes new tools for cities and towns to support and expand public transit in their communities.

Beyond our immediate needs to relieve congestion and improve traffic safety, we have the post-pandemic opportunity to bring more balanced and equitable economic development to regions throughout the Commonwealth. The key to doing so is strengthening public transportation so that our smaller cities can achieve many of the same benefits of dense, vibrant, multimodal development in their downtowns that are enjoyed by many neighborhoods in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline.

Accomplishing this will unlock jobs, housing, and small business investment in our Gateway Cities and suburban centers, which will not only generate sensible growth and property taxes for those communities but enable the state to meet its ambitious climate goals.

The deferred maintenance of our state and national infrastructure for the last 40 years has given us a public transportation system far behind the rest of the developed world, and indeed behind much of the developing world as well. Furthermore, Massachusetts communities lack many of the revenue tools widely available in other parts of the United States, placing them at an extreme disadvantage when competing for limited federal funds. If we expand the toolbox for our cities and towns, we can ensure that communities identify and resolve many of their own transportation problems.

One way to do this is H. 3426 (Ciccolo) An Act to Generate Revenue to Expand Transit Options.

This bill would allow communities to establish Transit Improvement Districts (TIDs), which are modeled in part on Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), a successful tool that has been on the books in Massachusetts for more than 20 years. In fact, the number of BIDs in the state has doubled over the last five years, indicating the interest and demand for solutions that are locally funded and governed.

TIDs adapt this concept to support modest transit operations that would enhance and supplement existing services. As a public-private partnership, the public—meaning the municipality as well as the Commonwealth—would have a seat at the decision-making table. A majority of property owners contributing to the TID would have to sign on to the management plan in order to even get a public hearing before the local legislative body.

TIDs could help bring greater coordination and public access to the existing patchwork of private shuttles offered by employers and housing developments. They will bring new private resources into public transportation, with public oversight. And they will enable communities, particularly suburban communities, to encourage more public transportation use in places currently dependent on private vehicles, which will help the state become more livable, reduce congestion, and help essential workers get to their jobs.

Additionally, it is time to approve Regional Ballot Initiatives, which are a component of Sen. Boncore’s New Deal for Transportation bill (S.2265), in addition to being a standalone bill (S.1899/H.3086) filed by Sen. Eric Lesser, Rep. Andy Vargas, and Rep. Adrian Madaro, currently before the Joint Committee on Revenue.

Regional Ballot Initiatives are one of the most important funding mechanisms for regional transportation projects throughout the United States, but it is one we cannot use in Massachusetts without legislative action. It empowers voters and taxpayers to participate directly in the conversation about what projects are most important and how much they are willing to contribute.

Many projects sit on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for years, sometimes decades. Let’s let regions decide for themselves whether they want to accelerate them and pay for them. A ballot defeat could be just as useful as a victory because it would demonstrate that the project perhaps should not be funded and can make room for better investments.

We also encourage you to report out favorably Chairman Straus’ value capture bill (H. 3608), which would formalize another tool, long-delayed in Massachusetts, that is commonly used in other states.

Value-capture is not a panacea, but it should be part of the toolbox and available to local and state agencies planning for transformative transportation investments. Research and long experience show that the state’s infrastructure investments can create enormous increases in property values, and that increase in taxes can be predicted and tapped to fund some of the upfront costs. Types of value capture are already done informally, such as negotiated agreements for developers to fund some portion of the public work. H. 3608 could improve this ad hoc approach by requiring upfront planning and allowing the value capture to happen incrementally over a larger district.

That being said, this tool should be applied with caution, because many communities, especially Gateway Cities, need the increased property taxes promised by development, so it should not be used in all cases. Value capture could also be used to justify the most expensive development, creating pressure to maximize the increase in property values and promoting luxury projects that may fuel gentrification and displacement. Value capture should always be balanced with other goals, including the development of mixed-income housing, and creating a vibrant, livable neighborhood.

Thank you for your attention. We encourage you to expand the toolbox for Massachusetts communities to shape and fund transportation projects this session with the bills mentioned above.

A final comment about transportation revenue in general. This is the time for the Legislature to lay out how we will sustainably fund our public transportation system now as well as in a very different future. The gas tax and TCI should be tapped in the short term, but we will need an appropriate tax regime for an all-electric future. Now is the time to explore alternatives such as carbon fees, vehicle miles traveled, and other mechanisms so that we can collect data and move quickly as the vehicles we drive change in the next five to ten years.

Please reach out with any questions or to discuss further.

Sincerely,

Andre Leroux
Consultant, Transformative TOD
MassINC

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.

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