By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – The topic of transportation was the focus of an economic development summit, “Promoting Regional Collaboration on the ‘Last Mile’ Connection,” hosted by a newly formed group The Boroughs+ at the Doubletree Hotel in Westborough Jan. 26. The event was sponsored by the legal firm, Mirick O’Connell.
The group is comprised of economic development professionals from Marlborough, Southborough, Westborough, Hopkinton, Hudson and the 495/MetroWest Partnership who are working together to address economic development issues that affect the Boroughs+ region.
The summit started with remarks by David McCay, Esq., who is the chair of the Southborough Economic Development Committee and a land use and environmental partner at Mirick O’Connell. The Boroughs+ will be addressing a number of issues in the future, he said, including housing, energy and water. Transportation, the topic of this particular summit, was critical, he added, as the area deals with major roadways that are more congested than ever.
“We will lose public support if the public equates increased economic development with increased traffic,” he said.
Next on the agenda was a keynote speech by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who is also a resident of Shrewsbury. In her remarks she noted that both she and Gov. Charles Baker were committed on fulfilling their campaign pledges of “building stronger communities.” The administration’s Community Compact program was designed to help local municipalities follow “best practices” and form a stronger partnership with state government that will help them succeed, she added.
Transportation was a key element, she said, adding “we must be more innovative on how we move people around.”
Following Polito, Dr. Barry Bluestone, the founding director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and founding dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, served as moderator for a panel discussion. Serving on the panel were Ed Carr, administrator, MetroWest Regional Transit Authority; Jim Robbins, Westborough Town Planner; Paul Matthews, executive director, 495/MetroWest Partnership; Bill Spencer, Pall Life Sciences; and Marybeth Stewart, Wegmans Food Markets.
“Our public transportation system that we have right now is just the bare bones,” Carr said. “We should be focusing on creating an infrastructure that will best serve the area 20 years from now.”
One suggestion, he added, was to create a dedicated lane on major highways that would only be made available to busses and freight trucks.
Robbins noted that in Westborough, a shuttle, which is run by the Worcester Regional Transit Authority, make trips back and forth from the Westborough MBTA commuter rail station to several of the town’s office parks. During the day, it then takes residents to destinations up and down East and West Main streets.n
Stewart and Spencer offered thoughts from an employers’ perspective. Wegmans sometimes faces a challenge of attracting qualified employees because there is no public transportation to Northborough, Stewart said. And Spencer noted that 80 percent of his employees currently commute more than 25 miles to work at the company’s Westborough facility but none use the shuttle.
Matthews reiterated an opinion that many have long had – there needs to be more equity in state funding for transportation. A sore point for many is that commuters going in and out of Boston from the west must pay tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike while those from the north and south do not.
It’s not just commuters that legislators must keep in mind when discussing transportation, Bluestone said. How to move the growing senior population from point A to point B is also a concern.
“Many [seniors] will want to live in this area but they need to be able to get around,” he said. He noted that currently in Atlanta, there is a program paid for by the business community, Ubers for Seniors, that offers rides for those that cannot afford them.
Arthur Bergeron, an attorney for Mirick O’Connell and a member of the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, said perhaps Uber drivers instead of shuttles should be hired to get commuters from a train station to their offices.
“We need an effective point-to-point service for them as well,” he said.
Bluestone and his colleagues will be releasing a report this April, he said, that will recommend the state pass a gas tax and vehicle miles-traveled tax to pay for needed transportation improvements.