The Gateway Cities Journal
News and information for leaders who care about Gateway Cities


Squeezing economic growth out of regional transit agencies


One year ago this week, the Massachusetts legislature passed a major transportation finance package. Included in the law was a requirement that the state's long overlooked Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) complete comprehensive service plans. Together with MassINC, the Wisconsin-based Smart State Transportation Initiative undertook a careful examination of best-practices for comprehensive service planning.


Our research finds that done well, RTA service plans can produce short-term improvements for transit riders by making better use of existing resources. Over the long-term, the plans could provide a road map for much needed investment in the RTAs, which have long made do with inadequate funding.


But our paper also identified several obstacles to truly successful transit planning. The current law calls for a single round of planning; ideally, transit agencies carryout this exercise every few years. And the current law amounts to an unfunded mandate to plan. While larger RTAs like the PVTA may have the wherewithal to go it alone, smaller agencies are sharing a modest federal grant to fund their planning. It remains to be seen whether that pot of money will be sufficient to accomplish the challenging task at hand. 


The stakes are high for the regional economies served by RTAs. Regional transit that gets workers to work makes employers more competitive. Regional transit can also help residents struggling to reach the middle class. For many families, public transportation is the difference between another car payment and being able to set aside money for a down payment on a home. For college students, public transportation that makes a car payment unnecessary means a better chance at keeping up with tuition payments, staying in school, and completing a degree.


By requiring RTAs to plan ahead, the legislature is providing them an opportunity to show what they could do with additional resources. Now it's up to the RTAs to deliver -- and to civic leaders in their communities to support -- a robust and rigorous process.


- Benjamin Forman, MassINC





For readers of this Journal, here's a sneak peak at the RTA service planning report referenced in this week's lead. The brief will be released next week.


Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera urges the MBTA board to take steps to advance a plan to convert abandoned tracks into a rail trail.


The $200 million Route 79/ Braga Bridge Improvement Project in Fall River reaches 25 percent completion. The project will improve access to the waterfront by removing the Route 79 viaduct and replacing it with a new surface roadway.


The MassDOT board approves the purchase of the Berkshire Line from the Housatonic Railroad Company, a significant step toward providing passenger service from New York City to Pittsfield.




The city of Worcester considers a tax exemption for research and development equipment used by biotech companies.


The Point neighborhood, the focus of Salem's Working Cities Challenge project, is nominated to the National Register as a National Historic District. Designation would make buildings within the district eligible for Federal Historic Tax Credits.


Weld Management begins construction the conversion of the old Catholic High School campus into a $19 million apartment complex in downtown Holyoke.


The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center gets a strong response to a request for information from private shipping companies interested in operating the new South Terminal in New Bedford according to the Boston Business Journal.


New research in Housing Policy Debate shows a link between housing affordability and the cognitive ability of children. Children in families that spend too much or too little on housing suffer.


Not hot off the press, but two reports caught our attention this week: Placemaking in Legacy Cities from the Center for Community Progress and the Capital Absorption Capacity of Places from Living Cities.




The Globe reports on efforts to expand the state's dual enrollment program, a central component of the Gateway Cities Vision.


Governor Patrick and Mayor Christenson visit a Gateway Cities Summer English Language Learner's Enrichment Academy in Malden. The Executive Office of Education has contracted with the Annenberg School at Brown University to evaluate the program.


Early Education Commissioner Tom Weber visits the Lynn Community Health Center's Reach out and Read family literacy program.



For a full list of Massachusetts Gateway Cities, click here. The Gateway Cities Journal is a weekly news publication of MassINC. If you would like to unsubscribe to The Journal but would still like to hear from MassINC, please let us know. If you are not yet on our list and would like to sign up, click here. To contribute news or comments, please email MassINC.



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