THE US HOUSE of Representatives ought to pass a $275 billion transportation bill despite the threat of a veto by President Bush. Massachusetts needs its share of this money for essential work on its highway and transit systems. Still, even with extra money available to Massachusetts, Governor Romney will have to find state funds to meet the commitments of prior administrations and to address future priorities.
Under the bill approved by the House Transportation Committee, Massachusetts would get $4.8 billion over six years for highways and transit, a 25 percent increase from the previous authorization. Thanks to US Representative Michael E. Capuano, who sits on the committee, the bill would authorize final design work on the Silver Line extension between Boylston Street and South Station, and it includes preliminary design approval for the Urban Ring around Boston, the North-South rail connector, and the Blue Line extension to Lynn. The bill would also name the Central Artery tunnel after the late House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.
O'Neill was a prime mover behind initial financing of the Central Artery project, enough so that opponents called it "Tip's Tunnel." It is fitting that he be honored in this way. But, unlike the days when O'Neill dominated the House, Massachusetts cannot count on the federal government to finance many necessary projects -- those included by Capuano as well as those required in an environmental agreement as part of the Central Artery construction. Among these are the Blue Line connection to the Red Line at Charles Street, the Green Line extension to Medford, and restoration of Arborway trolley service.
Last year, to his credit, Romney approved the return of commuter rail service to Greenbush, one of those Artery commitments, but the $470 million cost will diminish the MBTA's capacity to finance new projects.
Not all these Central Artery commitments, made in 1991, may fit today's needs. People in the Romney administration are thinking about compiling a new list of initiatives. The administration needs to work with the Legislature to make sure these priorities enjoy wide support.
The nagging question remains: Where will the money be found to pay for them? Romney is opposed to tax increases, but the state gasoline levy, at 21 cents, is less than those of 23 other states, and an increase would provide an important source of new revenue.
Similarly, Bush's opposition to the transportation bill shows that he favors protecting his tax cuts over putting money in essential projects. In Massachusetts, Romney should not let a dearth of state revenue prevent Massachusetts from setting a transportation agenda that will serve its needs far into the future.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.