EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

February 24, 2013

Column: We need money to fix region’s transportation system

How many of you have been caught in traffic or, worse yet, just avoided an accident on Route 114 in Lawrence and North Andover?

How many of you have driven on I-93 or I-495 and have found segments to be like driving on a washboard?

How many of you have waited on a commuter rail platform for over an hour for the next train?

These are the kind of questions we deal with here at the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC) on a daily basis. MVPC is the regional agency charged with helping identify ways of addressing these questions and the many other transportation needs in the Merrimack Valley.

Providing good, reliable and effective transportation to its citizens is one of the basic and most critical roles governments can play. We need to connect people to jobs with sensible, reliable public transit and safe, congestion-free roads and highways. Pounding across pothole-ridden highways and bumping along in buses that do not run after 6 p.m. is not what we need to propel the Merrimack Valley into the future.

While there is never a good time to raise revenue to address these needs, the commonwealth cannot afford not to do so. The time is now to enact a plan to fix and modernize our transportation system. We find ourselves at this crossroads because of our investment in the “Big Dig” and decades of short-term fixes that underfunded our roads and public transit. But make no mistake: Not funding our transportation system is a choice, and not doing so will ensure that other states move ahead of us in the years and decades to come.

Across the country many states are considering ways to bring new revenue to their transportation needs. Virginia is considering cutting their gas tax and replacing it with a sales tax since cars are much more mileage efficient today and the revenue generated from the gas tax is declining. Oregon is experimenting with a vehicle-mile travel fee as they transition away from declining gas tax revenue. South Carolina is considering a sales tax on vehicles to be dedicated for transportation. Michigan is considering a vehicle registration fee increase and Wisconsin is considering selling surplus state assets to raise new revenue for transportation. And many states like West Virginia and Washington are considering just raising their gas tax. Massachusetts needs to debate its options as these states are doing.

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