Was Massachusetts REALLY Rated Worst Drivers in the Country . . . Again?

Allstate just released their 2015 Best Drivers Report; once again, Massachusetts found itself near the very bottom. According to the 2015 report, Massachusetts is home to three of the five lowest-ranking cities in the US: Springfield was ranked 196th; Worcester was ranked 199th; and Boston, sitting in 200th place, was rated the very worst city for driving. Boston drivers averaged just 3.9 years between accidents and are 158% more likely to get into an accident than the national average. Worcester residents ranked only slightly higher, with an average of 4.5 years between accidents and a 120% greater likelihood of getting in an accident than the national average.

In 2012, Massachusetts experienced 349 crash-related fatalities and nearly 4,400 serious injuries . Of those who were killed in these crashes, 161 were drivers, 48 were passengers, 51 were on a motorcycle, 72 were pedestrians, and 15 were riding a bicycle.

However, when compared to the national average on fatal accidents, Massachusetts doesn’t look so bad. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found there were 4.9 deaths per 100,000 residents in the commonwealth, which was one of the lowest numbers in the country. Wyoming, with the worst population-to-fatality rate, was over five times higher, at nearly 26 deaths per 100,000 residents.

These statistics should give Bay Staters plenty to think about. Simple acts, like obeying the speed limit, stopping for pedestrians, and avoiding distracted driving can help reduce our chances of getting into accidents . . . and will hopefully help our cities rank higher in years to come.

Author Bio: Peter Ventura has more than 25 years of experience as a trial lawyer and practices personal injury law in Worcester, Massachusetts—the same city in which he was born. From 1982–1985, he served as the assistant district attorney in Worcester County, where he tried hundreds of cases. He has also served as an adjunct faculty member at several colleges and universities in the area.

Will Aging Infrastructure Prevent Massachusetts Business Growth?

Massachusetts is known for its convoluted roadways and aggressive drivers. Its residents are no stranger to the aging infrastructure that transforms their daily commutes into heroic efforts of driving prowess and cunning. The roads are both difficult to navigate and dangerous to traverse— full of potholes and spans of structurally deficient bridges. Repairs are underway throughout the state on bridges, highways and tunnels, which only seems to add hours in detours and traffic as unsound areas are brought up to meet standards. While progress is being made, the work that has occurred has only made a small dent in Massachusetts’ transportation system woes, and is further affecting timely delivery of goods, commuting times, and the overall appeal of the state as a location to do business.

The New England Council, a business advocacy group, has expressed concern over the congestion caused by road construction, as these type of inconveniences are often a factor in whether companies stay and expand or leave a region. At the moment, 20 tunnel projects and over 250 road reconstruction and resurfacing projects have entered the design phase, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Whether these projects will occur, and when, is another story. If approved, these repairs would happen in addition to projects like the ongoing initiative to repair more than 450 bridges. Initially a $3 billion project, it is now predicted to cost a total of $14.4 billion by the time the statewide repairs are completed.

Somerville Street in Blizzard Nemo-

Massachusetts has been experiencing a notable increase in economic growth over the last five years, however businesses are concerned about the timely delivery of goods and services. In a fast-paced economy, meeting deadlines with a tight turnaround time is a key factor of success. Delays and detours ultimately affect the bottom line.

The difficulties commuters faced last winter, between impassable roads, service delays, and cancellations of the MBTA, has business owners worried about the reliability of their employees as well. Dilapidated infrastructure could potentially keep top job candidates from considering working in certain areas. Efforts are being made to overhaul the financial management of the MBTA, as a panel convened by Gov. Charlie Baker in April predicted that the MBTA’s revenue shortfall would total $560 Million by 2020 if changes are not made.

rough roadAlthough business and state leaders agree that Massachusetts’ infrastructure needs refurbishing, the means to pay for these improvements remains uncertain. Maintenance has been deferred multiple times due to lapses in funding, leading to obsolete equipment and crumbling roadways full of potholes. Gasoline taxes have traditionally paid for road and bridge projects, but voters have not approved an increase in the gas tax since 1993.

What do you think? Does the current Infrastructure impact Massachusetts business growth in YOUR sector or does it simply add to the Old England charm?

Baker Pushes to Outsource MBTA

As local residents are undoubtedly aware, the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has been making a push to outsource the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) system. This has resulted in considerable controversy, not only from concerned citizens who use the MBTA system daily, but also from industry safety experts and city and state economists.

Many critics of the move allege that Governor Baker is pushing for full privatization and outsourcing without taking full account of the needs of local citizens—or of the harm that such privatization can do, not only to the state’s mass transit system, but to its bottom line as well.

Possible Exemption from the Pacheco Law

Governor Baker has introduced a measure that will allow a newly privatized and outsourced MBTA to claim formal and legal exemption from the so called Pacheco Law. This is the law that requires that certain rigorous and clearly defined standards must be met when considering whether to allow the privatization of public services that the state has hitherto been fiscally responsible for. In a word, Baker wishes to drop the MBTA from the state’s long list of responsibilities and hand it over to a private company to oversee.

Is There An Upside To Privatization?

Some readers may be wondering if there is an upside to privatization. The main advantage is economic: it certainly costs less to keep a privatized MBTA running, as it mitigates the rising maintenance and infrastructure spending. Critics of the bill allege that this is because the company doesn’t have to pay as much out for employee salaries, pensions, and benefits. However, other economic authorities in the state will counter these charges by the reasoned proposition that the management of MBTA is best handled as a profit making business. They point to the long-term and dangerous deficits being run up by the mass transit system. If the state was removed as the final authority in the matter, the MBTA might be run far more efficiently, with more attention being paid to customer satisfaction.

The Conflict Is Ongoing

As of the summer of 2015, the conflict remains ongoing. Governor Baker has issued several press releases, as well as several more public interviews, in which he has continued to deride the effectiveness of the Pacheco Law. While a long term resolution has yet to be reached, Governor Baker’s crusade for privatization is likely to continue far into the foreseeable future.

Construction for New Allston – Brighton Commuter Rail Begins

This spring marked the commencement of construction for the new Boston Landing commuter rail station, part of the Allston-Brighton commuter line.

The new station will be located adjacent to the Massachusetts Turnpike as part of commuter line that connects Framingham and Worcester to South Station. It is expected to open in fall 2016, two years later than the original projected completion date.

MBB-2The station is estimated to cost approximately $20 million ($4 – $6 million more than the original projected cost) and is being financed by New Boston Landing LLC, a New Balance development company. It will provide service to employees of the well-known shoe company, and direct access to the company’s planned Boston Landing development, a complex of restaurants, shops, a hotel, and athletic facilities. The headquarters are still under construction.

A select panel put together by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this year to study the state of the MBTA suggested that the agency should put expansion plans on hold. However, the panel also stated that projects like this one—which leverage private or federal money—should be exempt from any moratorium and should serve as an example of the type of construction the MBTA should pursue “to stretch every dollar.”

But the protracted timeline also illustrates some of the potential difficulties of a public-private partnership. When private companies foot the bill for major infrastructure projects, the state may find itself beholden to their timeline. With a project like Boston landing, where a private company is ultimately paying the bill, it can be difficult to negotiate penalties for delayed construction.

“Even if it was behind schedule, there aren’t any financial penalties because the private entity has agreed to foot that bill,” said MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes.

It is an issue that the state could potentially encounter more frequently in the future, as the state considers other opportunities for public-private partnerships. Last year, the Transportation Department launched a commission to help bring in more private sector partnerships, such a bridge in Cape Cod where the developer could potentially charge tolls and collect revenue.

If the state plans to embark on further public-private partnerships that relate to higher-stakes infrastructure projects—affecting highways, bridges or rails already used by commuters—it would be necessary for officials to take a closer look at ways to negotiate financial penalties for delays.

Baker Being Urged to Replace MBTA Board

Based on findings recently  issued  by a panel he appointed in February to investigate blizzard-related system shutdowns, Governor Charlie Baker is now being urged to find new leadership for the beleaguered MBTA. including asking for the resignations of the entire MassDOT Board of Directors. In a press conference, Baker stated there was a need to improve the fiscal responsibility and the performance of the transit system.

One recommendation includes creation of a five-member “Fiscal and Management Control Board.” Over the next three to five years, this board would supervise the MBTA’s finances, develop goals, restructure the MBTA, and “reinvent the labor-management and contract relationships.” Of the five board members, the governor would appoint three and the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives would each select one. This board would be given the mission to “aggressively” pursue these and other objectives, ultimately choosing a new CEO for the transit system.Baker shared the recommendations of this panel with the state legislature, saying they were “interested in the findings.” He also said that MassDOT board members are aware of the findings.The report includes recommendations to crack down on fare evasions and to add more advertising and concessions in stations. Interestingly, the report also suggested the state should assume debt payments for the Big Dig, in exchange for which the state would no longer cover shortfalls in the operating budget of the transit authority.Portions of the report have been leaked to the media over the past several days. One uncomfortable finding was that the average MBTA worker was absent 57 days a year. Perhaps more disturbing, the MBTA did not utilize up $2.2 billion in possible grants and bonds between 2010 and 2014.

Study Says a Carefully Planned Boston Olympics Could Bring in Billions

As Boston prepares its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, supporters and detractors have come out of the woodwork. However, according to a study done by The Boston Foundation and the UMass Donahue Institute, the Olympics could bring up to $4 billion to the state’s economy.

According to the study, the bulk of the revenues generated would come from the creation of 4,100 construction jobs during each of the six years needed to ready the city. In addition, the city could see increased revenue during the Olympic Games themselves with tourists adding an estimated $300 million. In addition, the study estimates that another 4,300 temporary jobs will be created just for the span of the Olympics.While the report outlines the economic benefits of having the Olympics in Boston, it also cautions against overspending with the warning that it would offset the economic benefits the Games would bring. Historically, other cities have exceeded their budgets for preparing for the Olympic Games by an average of 252 percent. The report points out that the International Olympic Committee has always exposed the host city to all financial obligations that come with hosting the games.

While the report outlines the economic benefits of having the Olympic Games in Boston, it also raises substantial questions about the fiscal viability of having an Olympic-sized budget for the games.

In addition to concerns with overspending, the report also points out shortfalls in public transportation and infrastructure that would need to be addressed. The report drew no conclusions as to the likelihood that Boston would receive a disproportionate amount of public money to improve its infrastructure. The study was also unable to determine how extensive these improvements would actually be.

Worcester Chamber to Host Debate of Boston Olympics Bid

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is about to host a debate discussing the pros and cons of Boston winning its bid to host the 2024 Olympics Games. The debate will be held as two separate functions, and is intended to discuss the possible implications for Worcester should Boston become the host city.

Representatives from the Boston 2024 Partnership, sponsors for the bid to bring the Olympics to Massachusetts, as well as their opponents, No Boston Olympics, will present their arguments to chamber members. This debate will address the potential impacts of Boston becoming the host city and Worcester’s potential level of involvement should that occur.

The discussion will begin on Tuesday, March 10, with opening statements from Richard Davey, former state transportation secretary and CEO of the Boston 2024 Partnership group. He will be discussing the partnership’s plan to run a cost-effective event using private funds, existing facilities and temporary venues. He will also discuss the organization’s belief that hosting the Olympics will greatly contribute to the commonwealth’s long-term growth.

On Friday, March 13, the debate will continue with statements from Chris Dempsey and Kelley Gossett, co-chairs of No Boston Olympics. The group believes that a pattern of overspending, years of construction, and few proven economic benefits for past host cities, make hosting an undesirable choice for Boston. They will discuss their view that the state should maintain its budgetary focus on schools and rebuilding transportation infrastructure.

A first time bidder in the Olympics, Boston beat out other major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. to become the official U.S. entrant. While its bid is heavily dependent on the use of existing facilities such as Gillette Stadium and the TD Garden, several venues would have to be constructed before Boston could host an international event on the scale of the Olympics.  This list would have to include – at a minimum – a temporary stadium able to seat more than 60,000, a velodrome, and an aquatics center.

Boston’s bid was privately funded by the Suffolk Construction Company, and has continued to gather more than $11 million in private funds.

Unfortunately, attendance for these debates is restricted to Chamber members only and will not be open to public. If you are unable to attend, watch this space for further details as they become public after the debates.


Snow Throws Wet Blanket on Economy

Starting in late January, Massachusetts has been battered by major snowstorms that have blocked roads, buried parking spaces, and caused widespread power outages. MBTA service has been limited, and even shut down in places. Snow and ice continues to block roads, keeping people away from shops and restaurants and impeding industrial and agricultural operations.

According to Christopher Geehern of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, employees are having trouble getting to work, and companies are having difficulties distributing their products. Industrial businesses are also spending a lot of time on snow removal.

Here are some other ways the snow is impacting the economy.

The Mystic Generating Station, an eight unit oil and natural gas power facility on the Mystic River across from Charlestown, lowered output to keep snow and ice in the river from making the plant malfunction. Workers also shoveled the flat roofs on the facility constantly. Kevin Thornton, a spokesman for the plant’s owner Exelon, said that the plant put workers in a hotel and provided food to make sure that they could get to work despite the snow. The plant has about 100 workers and the ability to power roughly two million homes. “The biggest costs have been snow removal,” Thornton said.

Insurance broker Marsh & McLennan in Worcester is seeing more claims for ice dams on roofs that have caused leaking and collapses. Jerry Alderman, president of property and casualty in New England, expects an increase in auto claims from snow and ice as well. Snow removal services are stretched very thin.

Economist Michael Goodman said that all the bad weather in January and February could cost the state billions of dollars while, according to a study by IHS Global Insight, a one day shutdown due to snow in Massachusetts would cost the state’s economy about $265 million.

Baker Resists Tax Hike for “T”

Charlie Baker thinks the issue of the how to fix the lingering issues related to the financially-troubled MBTA transit system in Boston is still up in the air.  During a February 19 appearance on WGBH Public Radio in Boston, Governor Baker said that, while all options are being evaluated, the issue of raising taxes to solve the issue is one he’s reluctant to consider. Campaigning for his recent election, Baker said he would not raise fees or taxes and that he was in favor of repealing a law that linked the gas tax to the inflation rate.

Conservatives groups have pushed for the MBTA to be placed into receivership. Baker noted that the city of Chelsea, a fiscal control board in Springfield, and the Lawrence Public Schools all successfully emerged from receivership. However, he said he was not yet ready to consider that option for the transit system.One suggestion that has periodically come up as a potential solution was for the MBTA to transfer some of its debt to the state. That debt was related to the agreement made a quarter-century ago that committed the state to expanding the transit system at a cost of an estimated $3 billion.

According to Baker, the operating budget for the MBTA has risen by 50 percent over the past seven to eight years, and that commuter rail operations were significantly increased despite a drop in passenger trips.  Baker also noted that since 2000, the MBTA has grown faster than any other mass transit system in the country, despite the population remaining at virtually the same level.The situation has become much more pronounced in the past few months due to the mountains of snow covering the region. Full service has been forced to shut down during successive major storms.

Baker stated that much of his senior staff has been working on transit issues and expects the service levels to be much improved.

Worcester Groups Pitch Transportation Solutions – Seek Backers

In an effort to provide much-needed transportation solutions in Worcester, seven groups provided ideas for a National Science Foundation program. This program, which was also shared with the cities of San Diego and Chicago, seeks to provide solutions to the cities’ transportation issues that arose out of growing populations. Some of the innovative ideas included skyline transportation and environment scanning apps.

The groups present labored over their proposals for ten months. Though there was a grant program, the groups involved share the creative credit. Participants in the program suggested that the groups might benefit from partnering with businesses.

The Art of Science Learning as well as Worcester’s Incubator for Innovation sponsored the event. Worcester’s focus was on transportation while San Diego handled water resources and Chicago handled urban nutrition. Professionals, students and a healthy cross-section of people from around Worcester were represented.

One of the interesting things about the program is that each of the represented groups presented a unique approach. One idea was to make the bus system more demand-driven than it is presently. One of the groups crafted a middle school curriculum about transportation. Another came up with the idea of converting volunteer service hours into usable bus passes. One proposed program uses predictions about walking patterns to determine which sidewalks and walkways to repair. Another proposes helping patients coordinate bus trips according to their appointments.

One of the things that participants took away from the experience was that, if the desire actually existed, the community could adopt these options immediately, with experts predicting better momentum for the work will make a difference.