Finneran: The Downside of Up

Friday, June 15, 2018
Tom Finneran, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢


It’s our daily nightmare.

Looking ahead, Governor Baker might want to take a mighty swing at this.

It’s a head-shaking negative in a sea of economic success and almost everybody suffers through it at least twice a day. Simply put, our traffic problem has become brutal.

Yes, I know that Detroit does not have a traffic problem. I also know that such a response is the ultimate straw man. We are not Detroit, and while we are not indifferent to any city’s economic struggles, we need to take care of our own problems first.

People now leave earlier and earlier in the morning in an effort to get a seat on the train or to beat the traffic congestion each day. They also work later and later in the vain hope that the traffic for their commute home will have thinned out. Truth be told, neither strategy appears to work, for the congestion is always there. The Expressway is as jammed up at 1:00 AM as it is at 1:00 PM. Shockingly so. “Rush hour” now seems to last about 22 hours each day.

The state itself is on a roll. We have high wages, low unemployment, plenty of jobs, good schools, a clean environment, and a solid reputation. Yes, these have been good years for Massachusetts. And while housing and healthcare costs are serious concerns, they do not have the same day-to-day impact on our quality of life as traffic. I might think of housing prices whenever I talk to a developer or a young couple. Or, I might fret about healthcare costs every few months. Those thoughts however are episodic, contingent on a chat or an invoice.

But commuting, fighting traffic, seeking shortcuts, rising at 4:00 AM are daily realities. And the facts are grim.

Commuter rail disappoints as often as not. On-time performance for three or four days in a row is encouraging. But, it’s that fifth day of non-performance which is both cursed and remembered. The T is no bargain either. No-show buses, transit breakdowns, and trolley mishaps seem to be the daily fare provided to the T’s patrons. So much for loving your customers...............

As for our highways---the Pike, Route 24, Route 3, Route 93, Route 95, Route 128, Route 495---there is never a good time to inch on. Hundreds of thousands of daily commuters barely get to break 10 miles an hour on the very rare “good” day for traffic. What about the bad days you ask? You do not want to know..........they are horror shows, seemingly designed to put your blood pressure through the roof.

We’re talking about basic infrastructure here. The status quo cannot continue. The design and construction of ferries, docks, satellite parking, highways, and ramps must accelerate. Commuter rail and rapid transit systems need attention to maintenance as well as to new equipment. Existing systems are overwhelmed.

I was no fan of the local pursuit of the Olympics. Mayor Menino mused about it and Mayor Walsh took a closer look at it. To his credit, Marty saw more urgent needs and he respectfully declined the Olympic Committee’s demands upon the city’s purse. But, there was an upside opportunity to the Olympic equation in that it would have forced us to look at badly outdated infrastructure and to accelerate our replacement of the ancient stuff. There’s something to be said for looking far beyond two and four-year horizons. There’s something to be said for building a fifty-year infrastructure for the future rather than merely patching up the broken roads of the past.

We’re living through the downside of up. It’s time to create the upside of up. It’s time to forge an upside for all.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio

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