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Business leaders set their sights on solving Mass. transportation problems

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Wander late into a morning meeting, and you probably won’t be the only one with a story to tell.

Maybe a packed Red Line train or No. 7 bus passed you by. Maybe your 8:10 arrived in West Natick 10 minutes late, again. Or maybe you were stuck in a traffic jam that seemed to stretch all the way across Charlestown.

Getting around Greater Boston has never been particularly easy, at least at rush hour. But to many business leaders, it now feels like we’ve become a victim of our own success. The jobs keep coming. The transit capacity? That’s another story.


Just ask JD Chesloff, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. Chesloff just wrapped up his annual membership survey for the group, an association of 80-plus senior executives at many of the state’s biggest employers. The number one issue on everyone’s minds: transportation.

In the past, finding talent was the biggest concern. Yes, that’s still a huge issue. But it’s secondary now to getting that talent in the door every day.

With that input, transportation will be a driving factor in the Roundtable’s discussions this fall for its 2019 legislative agenda.

But the Roundtable won’t be alone. Rick Dimino, the president of A Better City, says he wants to see the region’s business groups unite next year to press for faster fixes and a more rapid expansion of services — and for a plan to help pay for it all.

Yes, several business groups backed the legal challenge that killed the “millionaires tax,” which could have diverted nearly $1 billion a year to transportation needs. But they aren’t necessarily opposed to a “revenue solution” — that is, more taxes.

(Don’t forget their expensive but unsuccessful effort in 2014 to protect an inflation-based index for the state’s gas tax.)


Many companies are already chipping in. They’re paying for shuttle buses, subsidizing transit passes, and encouraging people to commute at different times or to work from home. Developers are ponying up big bucks for train stations: Assembly, Boston Landing, Lechmere.

And fans of connecting Springfield with Boston via higher-speed rail are finally gaining traction. State officials just hired a consultant to study the feasibility of 90-minute trips between the two cities.

Support from business leaders in the Boston area, such as Suffolk Construction chief John Fish, underscored the project’s importance to this region, not just the Pioneer Valley.

Governor Charlie Baker is often praised by executives for the work he’s done to modernize the MBTA and prepare it for another snowy winter. But some privately grumble that the administration isn’t ambitious or aggressive enough with its repair plans or new projects.

Baker’s team would say that they’re trying to be strategic. The MBTA, for example, is studying a potential broad revamp of the commuter rail system. And Baker’s former chief of staff, Steve Kadish, is leading a commission charged with looking at the future of transportation.

That group is analyzing the ways in which people get around the state will evolve, with an eye toward what the system should look like in 2040. Perhaps some shorter-term fixes will emerge. But business leaders don’t want to wait two more decades for solutions.

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.