Senate Passes Transportation Reform Bill

For Immediate Release

By a vote of 39 to 1, the Massachusetts State Senate passed comprehensive transportation reform legislation consolidating multiple agencies into an independent authority and eliminated the MBTA’s “23 and out” retirement policy on Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate bill eliminates the Turnpike Authority, streamlines communications, and creates a more efficient and cost-effective system under a unifying agency called the Massachusetts Surface Transportation Authority (MSTA), potentially saving the Commonwealth up to $6.5 billion over 20 years.

“The Senate acted today on legislation to create a more efficient, more transparent transportation system to address the pressing infrastructure needs of our Commonwealth, and I was proud to vote for it,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).

“In particular, we were able to win some important concessions with regards to toll equity, adding amendments that will reduce our overreliance on tolls as a source of funding going forward,” added Eldridge.

Those amendments included a measure that would minimize the ability of Massachusetts officials to lean on tollpayers to fill revenue shortfalls, capping the amount of toll revenue that can be used to fill a gap at 15 percent.  Another amendment would require that discounts for Fast Lane users be maintained under any future toll increases, and that the discounts must equal half the total of any such increase.

“Now that we’ve addressed the crucial issue of reform, I look forward to continuing the discussion of how we can build a sustainable, more equitable funding system to last us over the long haul,” continued Eldridge. “No one region or group of commuters should be forced to shoulder the burden for the transportation needs of the entire state, which is why we must look for revenue sources – such as a gas tax – that share the cost  of maintaining our transportation system fairly.  Going forward, revenue will be a crucial part of the ongoing debate.”

Transition to the MSTA will phase in over a three-year period, consolidating the Western Turnpike, MassHighway and DCR parkways and bridges by July 1, 2009; the Metropolitan Highway System, the Tobin Bridge and the RTAs by July 1, 2010; and the MBTA by July 1, 2011.

The Senate bill aligns the new Authority’s retirement policy with the state retirement system, eliminating the MBTA’s “23 and out” and implementing “55 and 25”.  It also requires that the cost of MBTA health care benefits will be no greater than those provided under the GIC. Employees will be required to participate in the GIC only if an actuarial study shows it to be more cost effective.

The legislation also includes significant transparency and accountability measures, including a special audit unit within MSTA to root out fraud, waste and abuse in Authority spending, a ban on former employees from lobbying the Authority for one year, and mandatory reporting requirements to the Legislature.

Other important amendments to the bill included an amendment filed by Senator Eldridge to add an appointee of an environmental organization to the Road and Bridge Advisory Board to ensure consideration of environmental needs within our transportation system, as well as an amendment filed by Senator Richard Moore, which created a bikeways advisory board to promote the design and construction of biking and pedestrian trails.

The bill now goes to the House for further action.