Congestion Fees, Managed Lanes Could Hurt Everett If Not Implemented Correctly

City officials are digesting the state’s report on traffic and congestion that was released last week, and while Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he appreciates the state’s detailed look into such a pivotal issue, his administration also said that the devil will be in the details.

The long-awaited state report on traffic and congestion hit the public Thursday, and contained several conclusions that were good for Everett, and one – if not rolled out correctly – that could hurt the City’s efforts to get commuters off of Broadway.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he was happy to see the state trying to tackle the same issues that he is now focusing on 100 percent.

“I would like to thank Secretary Pollack and MassDOT for taking a critical look at the issue of crippling congestion in our region,” he said. “Our City knows first-hand the impacts it has on the ability of our residents to get to work, school or visit loved ones. Everett will continue to work collaboratively with MassDOT and the MBTA, as we have over the past three years, to improve existing bus services and roadway infrastructure as well as complete our goal of having gold standard Bus Rapid Transit on Route 99. We stand ready to do our part in addressing this critical issue and look forward to seeing more project-level specifics from the Secretary.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said the report will be used to make informed, data-driven decisions.

“Traffic and congestion are a nuisance for too many residents, and this report provides our administration with robust data to help us make informed decisions on how to build on our efforts to tackle the Commonwealth’s congestion issues,” said Baker, who directed MassDOT in August 2018 to begin a comprehensive analysis of when, where and why roadway congestion is worsening in Massachusetts. “From this report, we have identified several ways to address congestion by expanding capacity on our transit system, adding more housing, and exploring managed lanes to help make people’s commutes be more reliable. We look forward to working with the Legislature, local government and the private sector to develop solutions to reduce the variability in people’s commutes.”

While none of the key corridors identified were in Everett, several were nearby, such as I-93 and two corridors in Revere. Many of Everett’s roads are also feeder roads to those that were identified in the report as the worst in the state.

A key finding that City Transportation Director Jay Monty felt was important was that the report asked municipalities to step up, such as Everett did three years ago to partner with the MBTA on the Transit Action Plan.

That, the report said, needed to happen more often.

“There is a sentiment in there that municipalities need to step up to the plate and own these changes,” he said. “However, there are also times when I hope the state will be responsive to municipalities. Sweetser Circle is an example here. The City would like to see several things done with bus priority and BRT there and it’s not in our jurisdiction. I hope they begin to step up in those situations with us.

“Clearly, though, we can’t sit and complain about these things for 20 years and wait for someone else to do something,” he continued. “That said, there is also a place for the state to step up as well.”

He said when such things happen, like in Everett, major changes happen without major expenditures.

“We did a lot of these existing measures without having to spend a lot of money,” he said. “A lot of it takes political will.”

Another part of the study that was music to Everett’s ears was the report had a key recommendation to “reinvent bus transit at both the MBTA and Regional Transit Authorities.”

DeMaria and his administration’s push to get Gold Standard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Lower Broadway and Upper Broadway is exactly what that recommendation is focused on.

However, one thing that is concerning Monty is the idea of managed lanes, which is the biggest recommendation in the report and one that would institute a charge for commuters using certain lanes on the highways. The idea would be to get more people to use mass transit to avoid paying more fees, and to make it more equitable for urban areas like Everett to not have to deal with commuter congestion in their home towns.

While that sounds good, if the program is implemented wrongly, it could just mean more people cutting through Everett to avoid the charges.

“It really depends on how you do it,” Monty said. “The Tobin has a toll now. If you do this you can’t keep the existing toll structure. It doesn’t work for the charging. It has to be a zone. That’s the only fair way to do it. Otherwise, you’ll just see more people trying to cut through to avoid charges…If you do geographic boundaries it doesn’t matter what road you’re on if you go into the zone at peak times, you’re going to be charged.”

Monty did say he was happy to see that the emphasis is to provide an attractive mass transit system that is a real alternative to driving in from the suburbs.

“The incentive has to be that it’s too expensive to drive to what’s the alternative,” he said. “If you don’t back this up with transit infrastructure, you don’t do anything. If someone is driving into Boston and paying $20 to park and a $2 congestion charge, that’s not going to make them change. It has to be a big charge so people will look for the alternative.”

As the report notes, “A range of factors created today’s growing congestion problem. Only an equally wide range of actions by public and private players alike can fix it.”

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