Forgive us for opening old wounds, but it was just two years ago this spring that our state was crippled with foot after foot of snow. There was perhaps no more striking example of how dependent our economy is on reliable transportation.
One economic analysis reported that Massachusetts lost $1 billion in wages and profits due to the storms — losses directly tied to the inability of employees, customers, and goods to get from point A to point B on roads, bridges and public transit.
Western Massachusetts doesn’t need a series of blizzards to understand the role that access to transportation plays in creating economic growth. This region’s substandard transportation infrastructure, and shortage of convenient travel options east, hampers the economic future of the area on even the sunniest summer day.
Today, getting from Springfield to Boston by train takes three hours. There is just one train a day and it is only on schedule half the time. As a result, Greater Springfield residents are virtually cut off from the red-hot economy of Greater Boston, and those who do commute east have little choice but to travel nearly two hours by car or bus on the Mass Pike – emitting greenhouse gases and increasing levels of highway congestion.
Traveling around the region isn’t much better. A 2013 study conducted by MassINC showed that riders who depend on the current inter-city bus system, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, for their commutes spend an average of 15 minutes longer getting to work each day than those who drive in their own vehicles.
Public transportation should make it easier, not harder, for employees to get to their jobs, whether they’re traveling across town by bus or across the state by train.
This month brought significant progress with the unveiling of a renovated Union Station, and with it the launch of 12 new trains making the trek from Springfield to New Haven and Hartford each day, as well as improved bus facilities.
While this important progress should be celebrated, one need only look to Springfield’s past to understand how much brighter its future could be if the recent developments included a study of the potential in connecting the region to other economic centers of the state.
Eric P. Lesser, represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in the Massachusetts Senate and is Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies. He also leads Millennial Outreach for the state Senate. Jesse Mermell is president of the Alliance for Business Leadership.