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New report looks at the future of transportation in Mass., defines WMass residents' priorities

Massachusetts residents share their input into a long-range transportation plan.
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Massachusetts residents share their input into a long-range transportation plan.

MassDOT has drafted a vision of what the future of transportation may look like in the state in 2050. A key architect in this process is Derek Krevat. He's the project manager for this statewide long range transportation plan.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: I understand that your planning and public policy background has ties back here to Western Mass?

Derek Krevat, MassDOT: That's correct. Yes. I went to grad school at UMass Amherst, where I studied both regional planning and public policy. So it's it's great to be reaching listeners in that area.

What's the purpose of this plan?

The purpose of the Beyond Mobility plan is really to define a vision for the future of transportation in Massachusetts. And that vision for the future is really informed directly by the people of Massachusetts. We talked to thousands of people about what they need, what their everyday challenges are getting around, and what their vision is for the future of transportation. So, we really try to take all of that feedback and synthesize it into a vision for the future, and talk about what MassDOT and the MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority] and other agencies can do to help us get there.

So, is it a normal part of state government to create a report that looks this far out in terms of transportation needs? Is that why this was created?

It's partly in response to a federal requirement that all state departments of transportation have what's known as a statewide long range transportation plan. So this was done partly to respond to that. But also, we thought we were at a really important turning point in transportation in Massachusetts. With all the technology changing with issues like climate change and electrification and the new bipartisan infrastructure law, we felt like we were at this point where we needed some kind of guiding document that would really set the tone for the vision of the future in the Commonwealth.

Before we jump into the plan, it has a somewhat unusual title. I mean, it's called "Beyond Mobility" so what's the origin story of that title?

When we talk about mobility and transportation, I think the traditional way to study mobility and getting around is really to look at how fast vehicles or cars can get through the system. And we know in transportation planning that the real purpose of the transportation system is to allow people to access opportunities, whether that's their job, health care, visiting loved ones or recreation. And so, we're viewing this less as a vision for kind of getting around for the sake of getting around, and more to encompass the idea that transportation is all about getting people to those opportunities.

There’s a section in there called resiliency. And that's where the climate crisis that's facing the state comes into play. We're expecting more heat waves, more extremes in weather in coming years. In what way will the stronger storms and higher winds change our daily commute and the way we view transportation here in western Mass. where erosion and rising sea levels are less evident every day?

Yeah, you're right. The plan does talk a lot about climate change resiliency. And we're seeing these storms happen now. Right? Last fall we saw in Leominster and in Fitchburg how those storms really eroded soil next to rivers and really caused significant damage to roadways. And so wherever you see rivers, we're seeing this happen in places like Williamsburg and in western Massachusetts, where we have a project funded through our transportation improvement program to address flooding on Route 9 in Williamsburg. So, we know that this is becoming increasingly common both for roadways and for transit.

We've documented in the plan, the estimated number of MassDOT owned bridges and roadways that will be impacted by climate change, whether that's through flooding or through things like extreme heat and sea level rise in the next couple of decades. So, that's something we're looking really closely at. We have a lot of other ongoing efforts related to resiliency, including things like vulnerability assessments, and we do have new funding in the bipartisan infrastructure law that's more dedicated to addressing resiliency. So, we're working across the agency to really look at the best use of that funding and how it can address all of these needs.

In a day to day sense, you have that eastern Mass. urban transportation scene around you all day long. And you are familiar with rural western Mass. And broadly, when we take into consideration all of the variables and the data in this plan, excluding resiliency, were there unique challenges that emerged that are only facing western Massachusetts?

I'd say absolutely, yes. We heard a lot from people in western Massachusetts about challenges when it comes to things like passenger rail. We heard a ton of demand for expanded passenger rail. We have our Compass Rail initiative at MassDOT, which includes things like our West East rail project, as well as other projects that will connect to that. And so whether it's the Berkshire Flyer, or whether it's West East rail, we heard a lot of interest in an expanded passenger rail. We know that's a big priority.

We also heard a lot from folks about the need for increased electric vehicle charging in western Massachusetts. So we heard, I'd say, more from people in western Massachusetts about how they really would prioritize electric vehicle charging in the Commonwealth. And so we know that's a big priority as well.

And the last thing I'll say is, is we heard a lot about multimodal connections to transit. So, better sidewalk coverage, more protected bike lanes when it comes to connecting to bus stops and stations, whether that's stops for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority or the Franklin Regional Transit Authority. We heard a lot of needs there.

So, in a practical sense, there's a plan, now. But moving forward, what's the implementation of this going to look like? How will the plan be used for the next quarter century?

So, the plan has over 100 action items listed in it for both MassDOT and our partner agencies. And so we're creating what we're calling a Beyond Mobility Action Items Progress Report, which will be an online resource for all of our divisions and partner agencies to use, which will provide regular status updates and which all of our divisions will be taking very seriously. The Transportation Funding Task Force is going to define resource needs for the next sort of generation of transportation investments that will be really critical when it comes to implementation.

Massachusetts officials have extended the public comment period on the state's long-term transportation plan. Residents can still weigh in until the end of May — that's almost four weeks longer than the original timeline.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.

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