Running Head: TRAFFIC CONGESTION IN BOSTON 1
TRAFFIC CONGESTION IN BOSTON 9
Portfolio Project – Traffic Congestion in Boston (Draft)
Tina Outerbridge Moriarty
ENG102 – Composition II (GT-CO2)
Colorado State University – Global Campus
May 9, 2019
Traffic Congestion in Boston
After spending a total of $24.3 billion dollars of tax payer’s money on improving infrastructure to alleviate traffic ten years ago, Boston has moved from being ranked 8th in the country for traffic congestion to being ranked as the worst with the average commuter spending 165 hours per year stuck in traffic, partly because the state scrapped plans to update the transit system to include improvements to the regional and local rail lines ironically because of the cost. The state must now pursue alternate plans to improve the system in order to make it more convenient for commuters to park their cars and use the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) services.
According to Boston Urban Planning (2013), Boston followed other cities such as New York in opening an urban highway system during the 50’s that would bring automobiles in and out of the city easily and conveniently. The Central Artery was an elevated six lane highway that ran right through the heart of the city. It carried about 75,000 vehicles a day but by the early 1990’s the population of Boston and the state of Massachusetts was increasing to where the Central Artery was carrying 200,000 automobiles per day. The traffic congestion spanned up to 10 hours per day and the accident rate was four times higher than the national average for urban interstates with estimates of stop and go traffic increasing to 16 hours per day by 2010. The roadway was carrying the burden of traffic in and out of the city all day every day with a structure that was deemed to be in danger of imminent collapse and something had to change.
In the early 80’s, then transportation secretary, Fred Salvucci, proposed the idea that instead of building a new central artery structure, the roadway should be rerouted to snake underground through the city and through the harbor. The concept was not entirely new; Interstate 93 was already underground from one part of the city to another. Boston would simply finish the job, tear down the unsightly Central Artery, and reconnect severed neighborhoods in the process. This would also help the federal transportation system complete their interstate highway system and therefore they would help to fund the project (Flint, 2015).
The official end date of this mega-project would span thirty years from planning to completion in 2006 and would cost more than $20 billion dollars more than originally budgeted due to unnecessary cost overruns, delays, problems with materials, faulty lighting and corruption (Moskowitz, 2012). Four key projects were completely eliminated from the Big Dig in regards to the public transportation system that would have complemented the other infrastructure improvements heading into the future. Although the federal government agreed to subsidize the project, they were only responsible for 80% of the original proposal (Boston Urban Planning, 2013). That left Massachusetts taxpayers in the hole for 20% of the original costs of the project and 100% of the overruns.
Despite the issues, the ends did justify the means for a time by bringing about changes to the congestion landscape in Boston. According to Mass.gov, it dropped the total number of hours travelled by 62% per person and provided an annual cost savings to travelers of approximately $168 million in time and cost savings. It even created more open green space and lowered the overall citywide carbon monoxide levels by 12% (Mass.gov, n.d.).
Fast forward to 2019 and the traffic congestion in and around Boston has exceeded the peak number of hours drivers wasted the year before the Big Dig was completed. This was a classic case of build it and they will come – the added capacity attracted more drivers to the area and have pushed the bottlenecks further outside of the city. The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization approximates that 800,000 people commute to work each day to Boston and its nearby metropolitan neighbors. Of this number, 71% drive into the area leaving only about 30% to utilize public transportation options (Conti, 2015).
Recently the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard for 2018 was released and it shows Boston’s commute is ranked the worst in the country with the average person spending $2300 and wasting 165 hours driving per year. That is just for the current situation and does not take into account the increase of 600,000 residents that the Donohue Institute expects to occur in the next twenty years (Renski, 2015). Officials in the city recognize that in addition to the expected increase in population, there are now rideshare companies and the delivery-on-demand services that add a layer of vehicles not expected when the Big Dig was conceived. They are working on making improvements consistently in the traffic flow by exploring adaptive traffic signals, additions of bike lanes and intersection improvement. City officials also contend that the traffic problems are regional in nature and that a comprehensive and reliable regional public transit system is needed to provide an alternative to driving.
Boston’s public transportation system has remained largely the same for the last four decades. The proper investments have not been put into the core system including tracks, trains, rails and even garages. Many subway stations are deteriorating and dangerous. The MBTA has not expanded of their services or the areas in which they provide service. Two of New England's busiest train stations and major hubs for the regional rail system remain frustratingly separated. Riders cannot access one station from the other without adding two additional connections to their journey (Brownsberger, 2018). The current cost of commuting via the MBTA into Boston from outside locales could be as much as $400 per person per month, significantly more than driving.
As a regional agency dependent on state funding for more than half of its budget, it consistently has to contend with political pressure from different constituencies on where to focus their efforts. In 2018, the MBTA released its long term plan for improvement acknowledging a good amount of uncertainty about how the system will evolve while also acknowledging that it has to improve in order to maintain and grow ridership (Focus40, 2018).
Statewide advocacy coalition, Transportation for Massachusetts, reports that although traffic congestion may mirror a decade ago, commuter’s attitudes are not the same. The knowledge-based economy we now have is not interested in 45 to 90 minute trips into an office. They are interested more options for getting into, out of, and around the city and would rather utilized public transportation, walking, and cycling in order to minimize their driving time (Conti, 2015).
Every commuter, resident and politician of the state agrees that the rail system needs to be upgraded but fears of a Big Dig repeat is impeding these upgrades. The most impactful change would be to create a North South Rail Link (NSRL) that would create a link between every rail line. This would ease the multiple connections regional-rail riders from the suburbs face to get from the northern suburbs to the south side of the city and vice versa (Brownsberger, 2018). This project is gaining ground on the political system with multiple studies being done on feasibility. It has even been marked as a priority but most of these studies show that just this one piece of improvement would not be completed for at least another 20 years. The absence of this link and the population growth Massachusetts faces the commuters of the state will continue to bypass the rail system altogether and create more congestion on the roads.
Another idea being talked about is making the MBTA and all of its lines free to encourage higher usage among commuters. While this may be true, there are more efficient ways that would be revenue generating for the state without causing more of a drain on the budget. The NSRL has the best potential of the system into one interconnected world class regional rail system if it is executed efficiently and swiftly, unlike the Big Dig. It will leverage the value of the existing system while increasing access across the region (North South Rail Link, 2019) adding value to commuters and revenue to the system to continue to improving the system to evolve with technology. Alternately, a free system, would increase the state’s budget and put undue burden on the citizens of Massachusetts that do not commute to work by raising their taxes..
Various other projects are without plans or even hopeful completion dates. Those projects include extending the local rail lines further out geographically than what they are now to reach a higher percentage of the population, deploying app-unlock bicycles and scooters, creating more user friendly bike lanes on surface streets, charging for driving into the city at busier times of the day and thinking about parking in a new way since the price of parking on a street is quite low compared to other metropolitan areas and residents of the city park for free (Burton, 2019).
Although the largest infrastructure project to be conducted in the US is only ten years old, Boston’s traffic congestion is getting worse by the month. The city’s transit system is aging quickly and has not kept up with the times. With the population of Massachusetts set to explode even more than it already has, the transit system will not be able to keep pace and thus only make the traffic congestion worse as time moves on. Solutions to the traffic congestion all link back to a better utilization of the public transit system in and around the city. Although city and state officials are working on easing the congestion in a myriad of ways, this is not a problem that can sit idle for long because as INIX has shown, it is not getting any better.
Barton, P. (2019). Boston Has Worst Traffic In Nation, According To New Rankings. CBS Boston. Retrieved from https://boston.cbslocal.com/2019/02/12/boston-worst-rush-hour-traffic/
Boston Urban Planning. (2013). Urban Planning History of Boston. Retrieved from https://bostonurbanplanning.weebly.com/the-big-dig.html
Brownsberger, Sen. W. (2018). FROM THE STATE HOUSE: Long-term plans for the MBTA. Wicked Local Belmont. Retrieved from https://belmont.wickedlocal.com/news/20180919/from-state-house-long-term-plans-for-mbta
Conti, K. (2015). Boston Commute is as Congested as it Was 10 Years Ago. Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/2015/09/17/zocommute/6oAfphVXJRcUJYM4RAFTWK/story.html
FOCUS40. (2018). Focus40: The Plan. The 2040 Investment Plan for the MBTA. Retrieved from https://www.mbtafocus40.com/focus40theplan
Flint, A. (2015). 10 Years Later, Did the Big Dig Deliver? The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/12/29/years-later-did-big-dig-deliver/tSb8PIMS4QJUETsMpA7SpI/story.html
INRIX (2019). Congestion Costs Each American 97 hours, $1,348 A Year. Press Release. Retrieved from http://inrix.com/press-releases/scorecard-2018-us/
Mass.Gov (n.d.). The Big Dig; Project Background. Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/info-details/the-big-dig-project-background#the-challenges-
Moskowitz, E. (2012). True Cost of Big Dig exceeds $24 billion with Interest, Officials Determine. Boston. Retrieved from https://www.boston.com/uncategorized/noprimarytagmatch/2012/07/10/true-cost-of-big-dig-exceeds-24-billion-with-interest-officials-determine
North South Rail Link. (2019). An Integrated Regional Rail Network for New England. Citizens for the North South Rail Link. Retrieved from http://www.northsouthraillink.org/
Renski, H. (2015). UMDI Long Term Population Projections Report. Donahue Institute. Retrieved from https://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/commissions-transportation-recommendations-unveiled/