Metrowest is one of the state’s vital economic centers but it faces challenges in transportation, housing affordability, and water infrastructure that risk slowing the region’s long-term growth, according to two new reports.
For the region’s success to continue, political and business leaders must find ways to invest in infrastructure and encourage housing development within the region’s 35 cities and towns, said Michael Goodman, executive director of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Public Policy Center.
“Everybody is going to have to work together to get that stuff done, and I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight,” Goodman said. “But the stakes for the region are very high.”
Goodman led the research team that prepared a study for the 495/MetroWest Suburban Edge Community Commission. The commission, in turn, spent 18 months meeting with local officials to identify challenges facing the region and issued its own report this month.
Metrowest serves as a linchpin between Boston and Worcester: Thousands of workers from Worcester fill jobs in Metrowest, and many residents from Metrowest commute to Boston for work, according to the report.
“We’re providing strong employment opportunities,” said Paul Matthews, executive director of the 495/MetroWest Partnership, a regional economic development group. “This region has always done phenomenally well with highly skilled workers who are raising their families.”
The report found that the region is well-educated, as more than half of its residents over age 25 have at least a bachelor’s degree, and has grown rapidly over the past several decades, soaring from about 427,000 in 1970 to more than 614,000 in 2015.
“It’s an economically vital center of activity in the state,” Goodman said.
But much like the rest of the country, Metrowest faces a number of “intimidating infrastructure challenges” in transportation, water, waste water, and other areas that could affect future growth, Goodman said.
Metrowest requires investment in roads, bridges, and rail links to ease congestion, and many of its communities have not developed enough affordable housing to meet demand, he said.
“How does the region meet these challenges and sustain what has been an extraordinary run of growth?” Goodman said. “Hard to see how that works in an environment where it’s increasingly difficult to get from Point A to Point B, and increasingly expensive to live.”
Even with a growing population, residential building permit activity in 2015 was below 2005 levels, the report found.
Those housing issues affect not just working families, but also middle-income households, and even some upper-middle-income households, he said.
Communities and government leaders representing the region must also work together to address bolstering its water resources — including sewers and storm water — which are vital for the region to attract more residential and commercial growth, Goodwin said.
The UMass Dartmouth report examined 35 cities and towns: Acton, Ashland, Bellingham, Berlin, Bolton, Boxborough, Foxborough, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Harvard, Holliston, Hopedale, Hopkinton, Hudson, Littleton, Marlborough, Maynard, Medfield, Medway, Milford, Millis, Natick, Norfolk, Northborough, Sherborn, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Stow, Sudbury, Upton, Wayland, Westborough, Westford, and Wrentham.
The report was prepared for the 495/MetroWest Suburban Edge Community Commission, which then reviewed issues facing the municipalities with fewer than 35,000 people (all but Framingham and Marlborough).
In a report on its own findings released Feb. 9, the commission said it will work with stakeholders to determine a path forward. “This extensive solicitation and analysis will result in identifying both short- and long-term strategies to address the challenges, with specific recommendations for municipalities, state, and private sector,” the report said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.