MassDOT Study: State Brought To 'Tipping Point' On Road Congestion

massdot congestion study

A figure taken from MassDOT's Congestion in the Commonwealth 2019 report shows the most congested traffic areas in the state. (MassDOT)

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Gov. Charlie Baker and Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack released the state's year-long traffic congestion study Thursday,

MassDOT's Congestion in the Commonwealth 2019 report found that congestion worsened in Massachusetts between 2013 and 2018, especially in Greater Boston—and claims the state is at a "tipping point" with respect to the issue.

You can read the full Congestion in the Commonwealth 2019 report here.

The study also makes recommendations for what steps officials should take to ease congestion.

"There is no silver bullet," Pollack said. "There is no one thing the Commonwealth can do that will make congestion better here—but there are a lot of things that we have to do if we take congestion seriously."

 

Where Does The T Fit In?

Baker and Pollack said coaxing more and more people to use the MBTA would help get drivers off the state's congested roadways.

WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal asked Baker and Pollack at a press conference whether that meant they'd consider lowering the cost of riding the beleaguered transit system. They said no.

"It is not something that is discussed in the congestion report, it is not something that has ever been used in a transit system as large as the MBTA, and the best data we have on why people do or don't use transit has to do with making it frequent and reliable," Pollack said. "Cost is a factor, but not anywhere close to as important as frequent and reliable. We are really focused on making the MBTA and the regional transit authorities providing frequent and reliable service for their customers."

Following a series of derailments and service issues over the summer, there has been a large push to lower the cost of riding the MBTA; even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh supported efforts not to raise fares.

But Baker said it wasn't on the table, and he'd rather expand transit than lower the cost to riders.

"We've also looked at our pricing on our public transit systems relative to other public transit systems and we are either low or in the middle, depending on which ones you talk about," Baker said. "I want to make the investments that create the 100,000 additional rides on the public transportation system. I think that's a far more important asset."

A Big 'No' To Congestion Pricing

One thing that isn't on the table according to Pollack and Baker is congestion pricing, or the practice of charging drivers more to drive in highly-congested areas or at highly-congested times as a deterrence meant to help alleviate traffic. The practice is being implemented in New York City, where drivers will have to pay to enter parts of Manhattan starting in 2021.

Pollack said it isn't needed, because the heavy congestion itself is enough of a deterrent.

"The congestion itself is changing people's travel behaviors," Pollack said. "The congestion is the signal. It's already telling people you should try to go to work earlier or later."

 

David Keith, Assistant Professor of System Dynamics at MIT's Sloan School of Management, disagrees with those findings.

"Congestion pricing has been shown again and again to be the most effective tool for reducing traffic in congested regions like Greater Boston," Keith wrote in a statement. "That Governor Baker questions the effectiveness and viability of congestion pricing is a bit of a head-scratcher."

Chris Dempsey, Director of the organization Transportaition for Massachusetts, commended the Baker administration for the report, but had similar criticisms of the dismissal of congestion pricing.

"The Governor must more aggressively confront congestion by piloting and testing smarter tolling approaches that have worked in other regions and can work here," Dempsey wrote in a release. "In the absence of implementing this essential tool, it will be challenging for the Commonwealth to adequately tackle this growing crisis."

Baker's Excited About Managed Lanes

Something that could happen, though, is combining HOV lanes and paid express lanes.

"States create a separate new lane on a highway with severe congestion that's tolled alongside no-toll roads, while drivers have a choice to commute in a faster lane for a cost," Baker said. "I think doing managed lanes would be a big departure from the standard operating procedure here in Massachusetts, but when you look at all the various approaches that people have tried to deal with congestion around major metropolitan areas, that is the one that I believe is the fairest and has the most likelihood of being successful."

Dempsey criticized this plan.

"The Governor’s proposal to build new highway lanes won’t fix our congestion problem and it runs counter to the Commonwealth’s environmental and transportation goals,” he wrote.

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WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) reports

 

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