North Shore leaders at the state and local level laid out the need for increased transportation spending this week, arguing that work will never cost less than it does now and continued improvements will help boost the economy.
The forum, held at the Old Town Hall in Salem, was organized by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. In addition to a panel that included MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott and state Registrar of Motor Vehicles Rachel Kaprielian, about 100 people looked on from the audience including Wenham's MAPC representative, Harriet Davis.
"Can we make the case we need to do something about transportation?" asked state Senator Tom McGee, D-Lynn, chairman of the Legislature's transportation committee.
Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said it is important that cities like Salem become partners with the state to complete transportation projects such as a $16 million project to improve Canal Street.
"Our small city cannot improve that corridor alone," she said.
She also pointed to the important role water can play in transportation, calling it an "underutilized transportation corridor."
Brian Cranney, owner of Cranney Companies in Danvers, said he relies on the roads every day to keep his businesses - which range from a self-storage facility to in-home electrical and plumbing repair, in business.
In Beverly, Mayor Bill Scanlon said continued spending on public transportation is important.
“Public transportation is so much more effective for moving people than cars on the road,” said Scanlon, mayor in a city with five train stations and two bus routes.
The goal, he said, is to transform public transportation from something people have to use to something they want to use.
Scanlon said the city has not be able to keep up on road improvements because of Chapter 90 state funding for road work.
For every city and town, the state’s Chapter 90 program is very important. It provides funding to communities to pay for local road projects. While funding is projected to be $200 million in the coming year, it would take $562 million in spending per year to keep local roads in a “state of good repair,” said Jeff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Equally important is that the money be dispersed early, said Mike Valenti, president of the Massachusetts Highway Association.
“We finally have recognition of Chapter 90,” he said, speaking from his seat in the audience. Construction companies hope to have a full 192 day work season, from March to November, he said. Without that time, “you are asking for something that is next to impossible,” he said, noting most municipal projects are planned using the full construction season. But often state funding is not released until mid-summer.
Above all, leaders worked to make the case that continued spending, including a proposed income tax hike and sales tax decrease that will increase tax revenue, is needed to make improvements and expand state transportation.
"It's not easy," McGee said. "We are asking people to come up with extra dollars for something important."