26 Nov Airo Security Declare: The Recorder – On transportation, it’s time for leadership
Transportation is on the legislature’s agenda, and our representatives on Beacon Hill will soon be debating what needs fixing and upgrading, and how to pay for it.
As legislators debate how to fund transportation, they can’t shy away from increasing the state gas tax, which has been raised by just three cents since 1991 and is now lower than almost every state in the Northeast. Our tax on gas is inadequate to fund what it’s used for, which is why our public transit, roads, bridges and sidewalks are so terrible.
The gas tax is in a transportation lockbox. But that lockbox has stayed small over the years, while our transportation challenges have just gotten larger. A phased-in increase of 15 cents per gallon over three years, for example, would help Massachusetts meet these challenges.
We understand politics. Getting consensus for a higher tax on fuel is hard. But so is living with asthma, missing appointments, losing out on opportunity and the climate catastrophe that is our greatest challenge.
Transportation is not just about roads and rails. It is about the health, the lives and the well-being of real people.
• A child growing up in Springfield is more likely to suffer from asthma or another respiratory disease than children living elsewhere in Massachusetts, with lifelong consequences. The closer that child lives or attends school to pollution from cars and trucks, the worse it is for them.
• Many families in Greenfield, Holyoke, or Chicopee are dependent on the FRTA or PVTA for work, school, or medical appointments. They are at the mercy of infrequent schedules that are even more scarce on nights or weekends.
• Seniors in communities like South Hadley, Agawam, Southampton and East Longmeadow face a looming mobility crisis in an aging region. How will they get where they need to go when they are no longer able to own and operate their own cars?
• Work opportunities in Hartford and Metro Boston area come at the cost of a long, costly commute, and intercity public transportation choices are limited.
• All of us in the Pioneer Valley are vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, which is accelerating in part from the gas and diesel we burn in our cars and trucks. More intense storms and flooding, hotter summers, shorter growing seasons, and other threats are challenges we need to tackle together.
• Public transportation to get to work and child care are frequently defining factors in ending homelessness. We must close the transportation gaps to make housing stability possible for the thousands who seek it.
For the people we help to serve, this is an emergency, because transportation affects the everyday experience of real people.
We realize that asking the public to help pay for these benefits is not universally popular. And for some, higher fuel costs are a real hardship, so legislators should explore offsets, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. And certainly, for Western Massachusetts, we need to guarantee that money raised here, is invested here.
Earlier this year, local and state leaders, including Senator Lesser, Representative Vega, Mayor Morse, Springfield’s Executive Director of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Pat Sullivan, and dozens of health activists gathered at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to discuss the region’s challenges of bad air quality, and how cleaner transportation is a big part of the solution.
It was clear then, and even more clear now, that we need to better fund transportation in the Pioneer Valley (and statewide), because better transportation translates to the ability to meet basic human needs, which translates to better health, and that is better for all of us. And we need to make transportation cleaner!
And now it’s time to do something about it.
It’s time to make public transit as convenient as driving a car, so that we have equitable access to education and economic opportunity.
It’s time for rail transit that connects communities across the state, and gets people off crowded roads.
It’s time for cleaner transportation that doesn’t jeopardize our health and future.
It’s time for leadership.
Clare Higgins is the executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley. Jessica Collins is the executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western MA. Pamela Schwartz is the director of Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness. David Gadaire is the president and CEO of MassHire Holyoke Career Center.