The forces that will shape the Boston region over the next 20 years include an aging population, changing job market, and continued demand for more housing. Increased congestion, stressed transportation infrastructure, and climate change present challenges to the long-term vitality of the region. The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) new Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Destination 2040, was developed to help the region address these challenges within this changing context. Destination 2040 establishes a vision for the region’s transportation system and funds capital investments and research studies to support that vision. Destination 2040 consists of two volumes: the Needs Assessment, which analyzes the transportation needs of the region, and the draft plan, which recommends programs and projects to meet those needs. Destination 2040 is available for public review and comment until August 23, 2019.
State of the System
Planning for the future starts with an understanding of existing conditions. Transportation capacity in a metropolitan region has important ramifications for the region’s economic health and quality of life, both in the present and the future. The Destination 2040 Needs Assessment demonstrates that while the Boston region is experiencing a booming economy and rapid population growth—especially in the core of the region—the capacity of the transportation network is stressed and residents are encountering mobility challenges regardless of the transportation modes they use. Congestion is increasing and components of the public transit system are aging and unreliable. Awareness of the condition of the system is rising among the media and the public, and pressure on policymakers to improve mobility is on the rise.
A Changing Region
With a full understanding of the current demographic, housing, and economic conditions, future trends can be predicted and assessments made about improvements to the transportation system that will help to meet future mobility needs.
As baby boomers age in place, seniors will comprise a larger share of households, average household size will shrink, and demand for housing will outpace population growth. Largely due to the increase in senior-headed households, low-income households are projected to increase 41 percent from 2010 to 2040. In 2040, most households in the region will be headed by someone born after 1980, either of the millennial or Generation Z cohort. (See Figure 1.)
On the job front, while the educational services sector is projected to grow 44 percent by 2040, the manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail, and utilities sectors are projected to decline substantially. These trends could dramatically alter land use in areas that have large employment centers in these declining sectors.
For more information on the key trends in population, housing demand, and economic growth—and how these trends will affect travel patterns and usage of the transportation system—refer to Chapters 2 and 3 of the Needs Assessment.
Impact on the System
These changes in the demographics, economy, and land use patterns in the region could result in significant changes to travel patterns, mode choices and demands on the system. While it is hard to say exactly what travel preferences millennial- and Generation Z-headed households will exhibit, it is likely that the habits of these householders, shaped by a near-lifelong availability of the internet, mobile devices, and on-demand mobility, will differ substantially from their predecessors. Seniors and low-income people, on the other hand, are more likely to be transit-dependent, and increased access to frequent, reliable transit will continue to be a major need in the region. As demand for housing increases, more people who rely on transit are likely to choose to live in areas outside the inner core of the region, many of which currently have few transit options. As the job market shifts and land use patterns change, providing access to jobs and services in the right places throughout the region will continue to be a challenge. Meanwhile, if climate trends continue as projected, the Boston region will likely see a rise in sea level coupled with storm-induced flooding, and more days with extreme temperatures that will affect the region’s infrastructure, economy, human health, and natural resources.
A planning scenario was designed to estimate the number of trips that would be made on the system by 2040 if the network remains as is (with the only new improvements being projects approved for construction through 2019).
In this no-build scenario, the actual number of driving, transit, walking, and biking trips are all projected to increase by 2040, but the overall share of those types of trips will not change significantly. While the overall share of driving trips will decrease slightly, the overall share of transit trips is expected to change very little. (See Figure 2.) This is likely due to the constrained capacity of the existing system.
Barring large-scale changes to the transit system and a concerted effort to encourage transit usage as an alternative to driving, traffic congestion is projected to increase. And, roadway congestion could affect transit service provided by local buses. Of the transit modes, local buses have the lowest projected ridership growth, possibly reflecting the slower speeds resulting from congestion. In contrast, bus rapid transit has the highest projected growth.
A Vision for the Future
In order to make meaningful progress towards improving the existing system and preparing the region for future trends and changes, the MPO voted to expand its programs to fund
- dedicated bus lanes,
- climate resiliency improvements,
- transit maintenance and modernization, and
- transportation connections for older adults.
During the 20 years covered by Destination 2040, the MPO has the discretion to program $2.9 billion in federal funds, which can be spent on highway and transit projects. The MPO used the findings of the Needs Assessment to identify major infrastructure projects (Figure 3)—those projects that cost more than $20 million and/or add capacity to the transportation system—and capital investment programs (Figure 4) to include in Destination 2040 and the MPO’s rolling five-year transportation capital investment plan, the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
Destination 2040 reaffirms the MPO’s policy of prioritizing low-cost, non-major infrastructure projects in its funding programs. For more information on the programs and projects in the recommended plan, refer to the draft Destination 2040 document.
The transportation challenges faced by the Boston region over the next two decades are complex, requiring resources and policy-making outside the purview of the MPO. MassDOT’s newly released congestion report confirms much of the data on increasing congestion found in the Needs Assessment, and recommends the implementation of “managed lanes” on highways and additional changes to existing fees for transportation network company vehicles. By prioritizing lower-cost programs that promote transit and the equitable use of roadway space, the MPO hopes to do its part to improve quality of life and long-term economic and cultural vitality for the region.
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