ADDITIONAL TRANSPO REVENUE "NOT AN ISSUE" IN SHORT TERM, POLLACK SAYS
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 28, 2017....Labeling the transportation sector as a barrier to the state's efforts to respond to climate change, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack on Thursday asked the public to help develop new strategies to deal with greenhouse gases.
"In Massachusetts now, climate is very much about transportation," Pollack said in her keynote address at the Department of Transportation's annual "Moving Together" conference.
In concert with "Climate Week" earlier this month, the Baker administration announced a stepped-up effort to extract additional greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the transportation sector, which accounts for the largest portion of emissions by sector. Transportation was responsible for 40.8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts in 2013, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
Officials are planning to hold three public listening sessions to gather input on transportation emissions reduction strategies. Pollack drew applause from the crowd at the Park Plaza Hotel when she told conference attendees MassDOT would reach out to them when the dates were finalized and asked that they "help us figure out" a way forward.
A state law known as the Global Warming Solutions Act set binding emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2050, and Gov. Charlie Baker on Sept. 12 said his administration would work to establish an interim target for 2030.
Pollack said transportation will need to be "a much bigger part of the solution" in meeting emissions goals beyond 2020.
"The truth is, one of the largest barriers to achieving those longer-term goals is transportation, because it's not moving in the right direction the way emissions from buildings and our electric sector are," she said.
This week has featured by a series of transportation-related events and announcements, including the release of two reports assessing the state's needs.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito responded to one - a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report urging a new state blueprint for transportation infrastructure - on Wednesday, announcing the administration would form a commission to study the future of transportation in Massachusetts and how it will be funded.
Pollack told the News Service she was "not ready to talk about" the makeup of the commission.
Asked if she saw a need for more revenue for transportation, Pollack said, "Right now, we have a five-year capital plan, and it's fully funded, and it keeps us very busy delivering that $16 billion worth of capital, so in the short term, it's not an issue."
Many activists are clamoring for new revenues to pay for transportation system improvements, arguing they will improve the quality of life for commuters and make the state a better place to do business. A 2013 state law infused the system with new revenues, and the MBTA has raised fares several times in recent year. Several senators said this week they believe the system needs additional financial support and they believe taxpayers are willing to pay more.
"A commission's a great opportunity to peer farther into the future," she said.
In her speech, Pollack said a question she's often asked is, "Is there a game plan here?"
She answered that query affirmatively, outlining a suite of plans MassDOT is working on to address bicycles, rail, pedestrians, freight and long-term goals for the MBTA.
Drafts of each will be coming out "pretty rapid fire over the next six months," Pollack said.
Encouraging people to walk, bike and use transit is one of the department's two strategies on greenhouse gas emissions, along with supporting electric vehicles and other "cleaner cars," Pollack told the News Service.
Boosting pedestrian activity requires a partnership with cities and towns, Pollack said, as 92 percent of the sidewalks in Massachusetts are owned by municipalities.