Kendall Square businesses, citing a ‘state of emergency,’ demand revenue to fix the T
Giant drug companies. Tiny biotechs. Landlords. Schools. Hotels.
It’s an eclectic mix — a group of CEOs and other managers from three dozen or so employers who sent a letter to state officials on Monday complaining about an increasing source of frustration: the daily commute.
These executives collectively employ tens of thousands of people in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. They all agree the state’s public transit system has entered what they term “a state of emergency.”
And they want more money to fix it. The Kendall Square Association’s letter to Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Karen Spilka declares, without any ambiguity, that it “is time to raise revenue for transportation and end this crisis.”
The tipping point for them: the June 11 derailment on the Red Line. Few neighborhoods are as reliant on that line. The Kendall Square Association’s board happened to be meeting that day. The chaos caused one board member to show up late, and two others to miss the meeting.
But these Kendall Square executives – the list includes leaders from the likes of Biogen, MIT, and Boston Properties – aren’t just talking about the Red Line. They’re referring to the snafus and snarls, big and small, that hamper commutes around Greater Boston on a daily basis.
They want to push the Baker administration to go beyond bringing the aging system up to a state of good repair.
In particular, the Kendall Square executives want a new Allston rail stop called West Station to finally get built, roughly three miles away. Here’s why: the promise of opening up a new rail route for commuters, called the Grand Junction, that could whisk suburbanites from the west across the Charles, into Cambridge, and all the way to North Station.
This is a new level of advocacy for the association, taking on a state issue so strongly.
C.A. Webb, who became president a year ago, recognizes the collective power her member companies possess. If there was ever a time to flex that muscle, this is it.
Webb says she drafted the letter soon after the JFK-UMass Station derailment and began circulating it last week. Only a few respondents were reluctant about Webb’s definitive call for more revenue.
The letter is separate from Webb’s transportation initiative with Jesse Mermell of the Alliance for Business Leadership, but the two dovetail nicely.
Webb and Mermell are huddling with a few other business groups to brainstorm fixes for this transportation crisis. In parallel, a much bigger coalition of chambers and business associations is also holding sessions, refereed by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, with the same goal. The next gathering is scheduled for Wednesday.
With another MBTA fare hike taking effect on July 1, the Kendall Square businesses don’t specify the kinds of revenue they seek. But the potential sources are well known. They include a gas tax increase and “smart tolling” to charge more money at peak driving times.
The letter comes just days after Transportation for Massachusetts, an advocacy group, called for adding 25 cents to the state’s gas tax (essentially doubling it) and imposing the state sales tax on Uber and Lyft rides (compared to the nominal 20 cents-per-ride fee that exists today).
That group also wants new congestion-pricing tolls rolled out on highways within the Route 128 beltway.
Jim Rooney, CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, says he welcomes the call to arms from Kendall Square. The more voices, the better, he says. Rooney has been meeting with roughly 30 business groups from across the state this year to discuss solutions. He wants to reach some kind of consensus in the fall. The recommendations will probably go beyond revenue ideas to include management reforms, as well.
The Baker administration regularly points to the massive new orders of Orange Line and Red Line cars that are on the way, totaling $1 billion-plus. This upgrade should help reduce the wait times between trains.
The Orange Line comes first, but the Red Line cars should start going into service next spring. However, the full rollout probably won’t be complete until 2023.
For the businesses that keep Kendall Square humming, those new Red Line trains can’t come soon enough. They also know the investments and improvements can’t end there.