Once an industrial force in the state’s economy, the city of Lynn has become a prime example of how an economy can languish when transportation infrastructure is lacking.
Yet, Lynn isn’t alone. As a Gateway City, it is a part of a bigger story of urban centers that are a key piece of the Commonwealth’s economic puzzle, but face debilitating social and economic issues due largely in part to a lack of transportation options. A MassINC and Brookings Institute report revealed that “incomplete transportation networks represent the most visible shortcoming in the Gateway Cities’ infrastructure connectivity.”
Centuries ago, Lynn’s waterfront made it the ideal location for agricultural and manufacturing industries. With a working harbor and proximity to Boston, the city’s accessibility and ease of mobility in and out of the city, not to mention miles of beaches, attracted people from all over the state for work and leisurely pursuits.
Investors caught on quickly: to capitalize on economic opportunities, Lynn needed more transportation options to ensure the safe and reliable movement of goods and people to economic centers like Boston.
With the extension of the Eastern Railroad to Lynn in the 1830s, and later the first electric trolley in the state, transit options to and from the city made the region ideal. In the early 1900s the Narrow Gauge Rail connected Lynn, Revere and Winthrop to East Boston where a dedicated ferry operated by the rail company met riders to continue the trip into downtown Boston. Connections from the North Shore were robust.
Today, the city of Lynn is still home to household names like General Electric Aviation, but the bulk of the industrial sector has moved on, and focus on expanded transportation options for the region has stalled as projects across the state compete for limited transportation dollars. While the city’s cultural diversity and proximity to the job market in Boston still draw people to Lynn, it is the lack of improved transportation options over recent decades that has placed constraints on economic growth of the city.
Commuters trying to get to the well-paying jobs in Boston, while living in more affordable areas outside of the city, know the substandard and limited system all too well. At the same time, attracting new businesses to operate in Lynn requires that adequate infrastructure exists.
These workers have two options: sit in their cars in traffic, or hope the commuter rail is on time. Most end up choosing the stress (and pollution) of a long commute in their vehicles, thanks in no small part to the unreliable train service in the area. Peak on-time performance of the Rockport/Newburyport trains dipped below 60 percent twice in the past month. No employee who punches a clock or has a big meeting can take that risk. As the only region of Greater Boston without a rapid transit option, North Shore commuters are limited by mode even though they pay tolls to use the Tobin Bridge or the tunnels that intersect their access to Boston.
The lack of options for Lynn and its neighbors is costly. According to a 2014 TRIP report, Massachusetts residents spend $8.3 billion annually commuting, representing disposable income that could be recycled back into business and local economies. Lost time, money and traffic congestion on Route 1A are exactly what the city is hoping to remedy. With opportunity looming and in hopes of once again leveraging its waterfront location, Lynn is pushing forward to purchase a vessel for a year-round ferry service with $4.5 million in grant funds from the Federal Transit Administration, as well as repurposing old industrial sites, advancing economic development and residential projects encompassed in the Waterfront Master Plan and throughout the downtown.
Because every dollar spent on public transportation generates four dollars in economic return, those with a vision for the future know that transit improvement and expansion needs to be done simultaneously with development.
Of course, investments in transportation have wide-reaching benefits. North Shore transportation investments could provide solutions for transit options in areas like the South Boston Waterfront, help solve parking constraints at Logan International Airport and alleviate pressure on Boston’s housing shortage. While the gap in affordable housing widens, Lynn, just nine miles from downtown Boston, could be a viable and more affordable option, and the added benefits to the environment are well documented.
With a well-designed and modern transportation system that all residents can access, the city of Lynn will see its economy revived and the entire Commonwealth will be a direct beneficiary.
State Sen. Thomas M. McGee, D-Lynn, represents the 3rd Essex District, which consists of Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus, and Swampscott. He is the mayor-elect of Lynn.
Meagan Greene is the program director of the Alliance for Business Leadership.