Opinion

A long view on an immediate problem

No one was surprised on Wednesday to find state Sen. Thomas M. McGee listening attentively as a state long-range transportation planner talked about Massachusetts’ transit spending goals over the next 23 years.

McGee has sounded the alarm about insufficient statewide transportation spending for years and called on state, federal and local officials, as well as Massachusetts residents and business owners, to get serious about improving roads, bridges, rail networks and other infrastructure.

“We can’t just continue to play catch-up,” McGee says when he talks about the cost to the economy and public safety of delaying or pushing off to the next generation the billions of dollars needed to be spent on transportation.

State transportation officials are touring the state, with Wednesday’s stop in Lynn, to get ideas about how to shape a transportation investment plan for 2040. Looking ahead 23 years on transportation investment is fine with McGee. But he says now is the time to plan and adopt serious spending strategies.

McGee said Gov. Baker didn’t spend a lot of time talking about transportation in his Tuesday night State of the State speech to McGee and fellow legislators. Not one to wait around for others to grab the reins and get the horses galloping, McGee has filed legislation creating a Metropolitan Transportation Network focused on improvements in the region lying inside Route 128.

The big highway circling Greater Boston is an antiquated testament to the days when cars were king and climate change wasn’t a household phrase. McGee’s vision for the Network includes looking at opportunities to add more tolls and generate the money that must be spent on infrastructure work.

No one wants to pay tolls but McGee consistently points out how North Shore drivers pay an unfair share of tolls while suburban drivers, with the exception of ones who use the Massachusetts Turnpike, are not burdened by tolls.

Tolls and other spending answers like gasoline tax hikes are not popular. But Massachusetts, in McGee’s view — and ours — cannot wait a quarter century to get highways, rail networks and bridges in a state of good repair.

There are short term improvements that can be tackled. State Rep. Brendan Crighton on Wednesday said existing rail networks, like the Rockport-Ipswich commuter line, could conceivably run lighter train cars at more frequent intervals to handle ridership more efficiently than existing commuter lines.

The long-term answers lie in a Blue Line extension to Lynn similar to the extensions to Somerville that helped revive that community. No innovative transportation idea can be discounted, McGee said, if the state and its residents want to avoid gridlock and even catastrophe.

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