Traffic Congestion in Massachusetts Reaches Tipping Point

Traffic congestion in Massachusetts has reached a tipping point as the state's existing transportation infrastructure bumps up against a surging economy.

That's according to a report released Thursday by the state Department of Transportation. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker had directed the agency last August to study when, where and why traffic congestion occurs in Massachusetts.

The report found small disruptions like a fender bender or bad weather can have a greater cascading effect on traffic than in the past, causing commute times to spike.

Baker said the worse part of the issue is unpredictability.

"When people can't plan for their commute to take the same amount of time each day it effects work schedules, child care arrangements, school drop offs and pick-ups and a whole variety of other issues," he said.

Some of the recommendations in the report include focusing on ways to ease traffic bottlenecks, adding separate tolled lanes to existing roads, building more affordable housing closer to public transportation and working with businesses to create new commuting routes to jobs.

One focus of the report is on the creation of new "managed lanes" on one or more highways in greater Boston.

The report describes managed lanes as a system of parallel lanes on a road, with one or more lanes for drivers that remain free while one or more lanes require drivers to pay a fee. The lanes could also be used by carpools, buses and vans carrying large amounts of people for no cost.

State Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said congestion is most severe in metropolitan Boston, but includes hot spots in Worcester, western Massachusetts, the Sagamore Bridge and other areas.

"By 6 o'clock in the morning, one in four miles of roadway inside of Rt. 128 is already congested or highly congested and the afternoon rush hour essentially begins at 3 in the afternoon," she said. "The commonwealth has reached a tipping point with respect to congestion."

She said the roads are so full that the smallest disruption can have ripple effects that clog up roadways more severely than in the past, in part because of the state's red-hot economy.

"While the average day has not gotten that much worse, the bad days have become much worse," she added. "Congestion is bad because the economy is good."

Chris Dempsey, director of transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition of statewide interest groups, praised some of the recommendations, but said the report falls short on the issue of road pricing. He said the state needs to test smarter tolling approaches.

"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," Dempsey said in statement.

The study also ticked off some of the state's most congested roads including: I-93 southbound from Mystic Valley Parkway in Medford to McGrath Highway in Somerville at 7 a.m.; Route 2 eastbound approaching Alewife Station at 8 a.m.; I-93 northbound from the Braintree split to Neponset Circle at 7 a.m.; Route 2 eastbound approaching Alewife Station at 7 a.m.; and I-93 southbound from Mystic Valley Parkway in Medford to McGrath Highway in Somerville at 8 a.m.

Baker is pushing a handful of transportation-related bills including a bill he filed last month calling for $18 billion in borrowing — including about $10 billion in road and highway projects and $5.7 billion for the state's beleaguered public transit system.

In June, Baker unveiled a separate plan to speed construction projects on Greater Boston's public transit system following a pair of subway car derailments with a one-time injection of $50 million.

Baker has also proposed legislation that would push ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to provide more information about where and when they're picking up and dropping off riders. A representative of Lyft has said the company is worried some elements of Baker's proposal, including the collection of information on trips.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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