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State transportation finance problems could be worsened by climate change, electric cars, report says

The state’s roads and bridges and the MBTA continue to have problems, despite efforts in recent years to fund fixes for them, according to a new report. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Passengers stuck on the Red Line this morning, take note.

The state’s roads and bridges and the MBTA continue to have problems, despite efforts in recent years to fund fixes for them, according to a new report on the financing of the state’s transportation system.

At the same time, the report warns of “emerging challenges” that the state has to be vigilant about: the effect of climate change, which will cost money, and the rise of ride-hailing and the electric car, which could deprive the state of revenues it gets from gas-fueled cars.

The report, issued by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-backed government watchdog group, said the conditions of roads and bridges “remain problematic.”


It also said the MBTA failed in recent years to control operating costs, which has “detrimentally impacted all aspects of the system.”

Those challenges, while serious, are not new, the report said.

Looking to the future, the report said, “Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing problems as both a long-term trend and a short-term shock. The state must contend with the impact of more frequent and more severe heat waves, storm surges, floods, heavy rainfall events, sea rises, and their impact on roads, rails, power, signals, tunnels, culverts and more.”

The report warned of pavement softened by high temperatures more susceptible to rutting and potholes, rail tracks expanding and buckling in the heat, culverts and roads washed out by heavy rains, and subway tunnels inundated by rising sea levels and storm surges.

If climate change is not incorporated into planning, the state risks “exposing our transportation systems to potentially catastrophic damage or investing in obsolete assets,” the report said.

The report also called for the state to keep in mind during planning that the way that people use motor vehicles is “evolving at stunning speed,” noting the rise of car-sharing and ride-hailing services, electric vehicles, and the expected arrival of autonomous vehicles.


“Changes in transportation services and technologies will almost certainly impact public transportation service delivery and future infrastructure needs,” the report said.

They will also probably affect state finances. The state relied on $850 million in taxes from the sale of motor vehicles in fiscal 2017, $570 million in Registry and inspection fees, and $770 million in gas tax revenues. Ride-hailing and electric cars could slash those numbers.

“Although the timelines are unknown, these are inevitable trends that must be considered as capital plans are made and revenue streams to pay for them are identified,” the report said.

How soon the effect will be felt is unknown, but “climate change adds to the costs of preserving and maintaining infrastructure while advances in transportation technology put current practices, priorities, and revenues at risk,” the report said.

Eileen McAnneny, president of the foundation, said in an e-mail that the state needed to “rethink its transportation plan” in the face of “irreversible waves of uncertainty from climate change and advances in transportation technologies.”

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.