MassDOT Secretary: “We Will Build No More Superhighways”

OK, everybody, pack your bags. We’re all moving to Massachusetts.

MassDOT Chief Richard Davey said yesterday he wouldn't be building any more "superhighways" and wanted to focus on transit, biking, and walking instead. Photo: ## Republican/Mark M. Murray##

The Bay State’s transportation secretary, Richard Davey, has launched a “mode shift” campaign, saying in no uncertain terms that it’s time for people to get out of their cars and onto trains, buses, bikes, and their own two feet. His goal is to triple the share of trips taken by those modes, as opposed to single-occupancy vehicles, by improving transit service and active transportation amenities like lighting, sidewalks, curb cuts and rail-trails.

Here’s the part that gives me the shivers: “I have news for you,” Davey said at a news conference yesterday. “We will build no more superhighways in this state. There is no room.”

Massachusetts has 76,200 lane-miles of roadway, in a state that’s just 190 miles long. That’s a lot more asphalt than any other state in New England.

Eric Sundquist works with innovative state DOTs for a living, as director of the State Smart Transportation Initiative. What Massachusetts is doing is “leading edge but not bleeding edge,” Sundquist told Streetsblog. “There are other states that, even if they haven’t packaged a campaign around mode shift explicitly, are doing a lot of things to encourage mode shift.”

Still, Davey’s campaign is just the kind of forward thinking SSTI and Smart Growth America had in mind when they teamed up to publish a guidebook for state DOTs wishing to innovate. “This represents an opportunity for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to make better use of financial resources, save taxpayer money and lower congestion,” SGA’s Tom Madrecki told Streetsblog in an email, “all while keeping people moving across the commonwealth.”

Davey says a shift toward sustainable transportation will “foster improved quality of life by improving our environment and preserving capacity on our highway network; by letting other travel options absorb travel demand that contributes to highway congestion that is slowing our potential for economic growth.” He also says the mode shift will “achieve positive public health outcomes by providing more healthy transportation options.”

The mode shift will be a centerpiece of MassDOT’s GreenDOT Implementation Plan, being finalized this fall, which strives for multi-modalism. “Of all the state’s green policies, this is the one that really counts,” Marc Draisen, who directs the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, told the Boston Globe.

Richard Davey is the only state transportation chief who doesn’t own a car.

10 thoughts on MassDOT Secretary: “We Will Build No More Superhighways”

  1. It’s true, I’ve seen him on the Green Line.

    But the MBTA is falling apart from neglect as its funds get drained to pay the interest on $5 billion debt, part of which comes from Big Dig-related projects.

    The saving grace is that Boston is a small enough place to walk the gaps where the T fails.

    But we still have minimum parking requirements and plenty of older folks who are still very much addicted to their automobile, always fighting any change or improvement that might help others. MassDOT is one of the better DOTs but they also have their odd predilection for restoring and rebuilding unwanted 1950s-era overpasses and parkways.

    So come to Massachusetts, but be ready to help work to make it a better place.

  2. This is actually an extension of the “Fix it First” policy — everything must be in a state of good repair, no new highways — put in place under Doug Foy, head of the Office for Commonwealth Development, established under … Mitt Romney.

  3. YES. Can’t wait to move back some day. Of course, hopefully they get the T fixed AND turn the commuter rail into something useful (think 15-minute headways on weekends). That would spark a true renaissance.

  4. Purists are dangerous in any executive position, from education to transportation. As so, I’m highly skeptical of the aptitude of secretaries of transportation that declare themselves “ex-ante” against certain solutions out of promoting social engineering. It is like a secretary of education declaring “we will build no more computer labs because anyone everywhere can use tablets”.

  5. @0356afefbb889d81dcc6ea9a787c0eca:disqus It’s also an extension of the highway moratorium that has been in place in Boston inside of 128 for over 40 years.  

  6. Aren’t they about to abolish the already marginal commuter rail service completely on weekends? I can’t remember if MBTA is under MassDOT or if it is a separate agency.

    Metro Boston has a population density that doesn’t feel tremendously different than that of the NYC area. There is no hyperdense Manhattan core, but it’s still a congested area inside of Route 128, which like I-93 is a parking lot all week long. The T subway system can’t take any of the load off because it doesn’t extend nearly as far out as it should. Really, there is no rational reason why the T shouldn’t extend out to at least Lynn on the north side and Lexington on the west side. As it is now, it’s the worst of all worlds… less than stellar transit that is in the process of being cut back, coupled with an overburdened road network.

  7. “Aren’t they about to abolish the already marginal commuter rail service completely on weekends? I can’t remember if MBTA is under MassDOT or if it is a separate agency.”

    Yes. The Big Dig has hamstrung us. Let this be a lesson to you New Yorkers: don’t even think about burying your old expressways. Tear. Them. Down. 

  8. As a bitter ex-Bay Stater, allow me to disabuse you of any illusions you may have about the commonwealth.

    I think my position can best be summed up by telling you that I work in transpo engineering, and earlier this year I moved from Boston to Los Angeles, because LA is much more forward thinking than Boston.

    Will Massachusetts be building any more superhighways? No, though they just finished widening the 3 freeway going up to NH about 5-7 years ago, and they’re currently widening the 128 freeway, the beltway around the city. These are general purpose lanes, not even HOV.

    The real reason they won’t be building any highways is that they don’t have any money, thanks to the huge debt from the Big Dig. They won’t be building very much transit anytime soon, for the same reason. The Green Line Extension (smaller than Expo 1, or Expo 2, or Crenshaw, or Gold Line Foothill, and so on) keep getting delayed. Red Line – Blue Line connector is going nowhere. New Bedford/Fall River commuter rail? Nope, no money. To that add the MBTA’s enormous debt and enormous maintenance backlog. And when Deval Patrick proposed increasing the gas tax, he was crushed by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

    If they’re going to triple transit/bike/walk mode share, it’s going to be all on the bike/walk side. The subways and commuter rail are all pretty full during rush hour. With no plans to expand capacity, how are you going to triple ridership? On the bike/ped side, Boston has a long way to go; the city’s bike amenities expand haltingly, and it seems like every traffic light has a ped-only phase instead of concurrent, encouraging rampant jaywalking.

    But all of that’s okay, because the Bay State’s population isn’t growing very fast at all, thanks to sky high housing costs due to rampant NIMBYism. There are commuter rail stations, and even light rail stations, surrounded by development of such low density it ought to be criminal.

  9. As for 15 minute headways on the commuter rail, sure, if you have a few billion dollars to sink into double-tracking the whole network, reconfiguring S Station and N Station, building N-S Rail Link, and buying a whole boatload of rolling stock, go for it. OTW the CR is going to keep getting service cuts, like the MBTA has been doing lately, since it is broke.



    I’ve also noticed how people will gently step around the
    population issue to avoid raising that hot button.  Maybe if people start thinking about BREEDING
    more responsibly and having less kids there would be less pressure like this,
    less people driving too eventually.

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