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A community forum about the importance of transportation and solutions for raising  needed revenue is set for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Cambridge Public Library. (Photo: Michael Kappel)

A community forum about the importance of transportation and solutions for raising needed revenue is set for 5:30 to 8 p.m. March 26 at the Cambridge Public Library. (Photo: Michael Kappel)

Transportation is key to Massachusetts’ economic future – but it is at risk.

Public transportation’s power to grow our economy and create great communities can be seen in places such as Kendall Square, which would not be the thriving center of new business that it is without its convenient access to public transportation on the red line. Other epicenters of business in Cambridge profit greatly from public transit as well, with stops in Harvard Square, Central Square, Porter Square and Alewife. Subway stations, as well as the bus and transit system, all benefit local businesses, workers and residents.

Unfortunately, the MBTA, and the rest of our transportation system, is falling further into debt and disrepair. Red line service is too often delayed by breakdowns because it is operating 43-year-old train cars – cars that should have been retired 15 years ago. Our roads are riddled with potholes and haven’t been upgraded. The Longfellow Bridge is just one example of the hundreds of bridges across the commonwealth that need urgent repairs.

In a 2007 report, the Transportation Finance Commission said that Massachusetts is facing a funding gap of $15 billion to $19 billion over the next 20 years to properly maintain our roads, bridges and public transit infrastructure. The disrepair of our transportation infrastructure is endangering future economic growth. Every year CNBC ranks “America’s Top States for Business.” From 2011 to 2012, Massachusetts fell from sixth overall to 28th. While we remain among the top-ranked states in many categories, our ranking in the category of Infrastructure & Transportation fell from 29th to a dismal 45th. This trend cannot continue, and substantial new revenue is needed to mend the gap.

It is important that we create a final plan that will generate adequate revenue to meet basic operating, maintenance, debt service and capital needs along with service expansions that spur economic growth.  The governor’s budget proposal aims to raise necessary transportation revenue in a way that will not disproportionately affect low- and middle-income families and individuals. As we move forward on creating long-term, comprehensive funding solutions to meet all of our statewide transportation needs, we should consider the governor’s budget proposal among many of the other revenue options that are on the table.

Transportation funding is at a crisis point.  For decades, Massachusetts has underfunded repairs of our transit, roads and bridges. Report after report has shown the need for major investment in repairs to our entire transportation infrastructure. We now have a unique opportunity to restore our transportation system and we must not let it pass.

With crumbling roads and bridges, severely outdated MBTA vehicles and the specter of further cuts to transit service, addressing the transportation funding gap can’t wait. When we invest in transportation, we invest in those things we all care about: jobs, the economy, education, a better quality of life and our environment. After World War II, our nation invested in highways and public transportation, spurring a period of growth, but recently we have postponed maintenance and avoided needed improvements. The time has come to invest in a 21st century transportation system for ourselves and future generations.

As a part of the statewide conversation I, with other legislators, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and Transportation for Massachusetts have planned a community forum about the importance of transportation to residents and businesses alike, along with proposed solutions for how to raise the needed revenue. The forum is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. March 26 at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway. Please join us to hear from state Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey and others and to share your thoughts for the future.

Pat Jehlen represents Cambridge in the state Senate and is co-chairwoman of the Senate’s MBTA caucus. Kristina Egan is director of the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition. 

This post was updated March 17, 2013, to correct the event’s date.