Salvucci, the brain behind the Big Dig, has seen the state’s transit system sliding toward the cliff for decades, as an inexcusably long line of administrations failed to implement vital provisions of the vision he and others put forth: not just a shiny new subterranean roadway, but also a massive investment in public transit to spread the benefits, and commuters, around.
“There was no excuse for not honoring the commitments made,” Salvucci said. “And we’re all paying the price for it now.”
Are we ever! As the report made clear, everybody has their cross to bear. Mine happens to be Route 1A, which brings drivers downtown from Lynn, Swampscott, and points north. Parts of that road, the report noted, are congested for 12 hours a day. Travel times doubled between 2013 and 2018 in and around the Sumner Tunnel. This, even after the Ted Williams Tunnel began accepting cars in 2003: It temporarily unclogged traffic (good times!) then promptly got gummed up, because more roads always means more cars. So we have the same gridlock, but more places to enjoy it, or contemplate self-immolation.
Salvucci ticks off projects that could have saved our sanity but never got done, including a connection between the Red and Blue lines, and parking limits at Logan Airport that would have meant fewer cars on 1A.
Like Salvucci, Lynn Mayor Tom McGee, a former state senator, has watched as report after report sounded the alarm on our transportation woes, recommended fixes, and faded away. He has been baying about our plight for years, urging more ambitious thinking.
“People have consistently looked at me like I have three heads,” McGee said. The commuter rail that passes through his city is a relic, he said: insufficiently frequent, crowded, and costly, forcing commuters to choose the Blue Line at Wonderland, or drive into Boston instead. It has to be overhauled, electrified, and, in the interim, made more frequent and reliable. And McGee would like his ferry, please, the service he helped make real for a couple of summers, which takes commuters on a glorious, half-hour trip to Central Wharf. Like other advocates, he reckons bus service will set us free: not the stop-and-go type of buses that collect forlorn-looking passengers from run-down stops along the Lynnway, but the dependable type, which pick up passengers from protected, un-depressing stops, and zip along in their own special lanes.
The woes with which McGee contends are just a chunk of a massive problem and, in the absence of radical action, one that will only get worse as the region grows (hello, 10,000 units of housing at Suffolk Downs).
So, here comes the Baker administration, with another report on our transportation dilemma. Mercifully, it acknowledges the fact that we can’t build our way out of congestion by widening roads, and offers some smart (but not grand) solutions — like housing policies that make building near public transit easier, a better bus system, a less archaic commuter rail.
We’ve been here before, with reports landing with a bang then collecting dust. But the Baker administration says this time will be different. A 10-year, $18 billion bond bill the governor proposed in July would put (borrowed) money behind some of its recommendations: funds for designing the Red-Blue connector, grants for dedicated bus lanes and improving the commuter rail, for example. There is even $25 million to expand ferry service, some of which might make it to Lynn.
Does this mean Salvucci and McGee can finally stop ripping out their hair? Hardly. They’ve been here before. The most ambitious items on their wish lists, already long overdue, are still years, if not decades, away.
“They’ve gotta stop talking and planning and start doing,” Salvucci said. “Just say yes, and get moving.”