By Anthony D’Ambrosio
With the passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last week, the future of U.S. infrastructure—both physical and digital—has become a lot brighter. Massachusetts alone is expected to receive over $9 billion to make road and bridge repairs, improve the MBTA, and expand access to broadband Internet service. While we should celebrate this hard-won victory at the federal level, the difficult state level work is about to commence. The most critical decisions—to what programs the money will go, when infrastructure improvements begin, and who will most benefit—have not yet been made. State leaders in western Massachusetts and the Cape have already started lobbying for large portions of the funds to be allocated to their districts. Now more than ever, we, too, need a senator with a strong understanding of infrastructure, finance, and technology to ensure that our District is not overlooked during this crucial allocation process.
People often assume that the greatest infrastructure needs are in rural or inland settings where lack of population density means there are fewer train lines and digital services, but this is not always the case. Our District—as coastal and urban as any place in Massachusetts—faces some of the largest infrastructure challenges in the Commonwealth.
Let’s start with the T. As a daily user of the Blue Line, I understand the importance of regular and reliable T-service, including early-morning and late-night service. I support using part of the $2.5 billion from the federal infrastructure bill to expand T accessibility and stop restrictions on T hours, as such restrictions disproportionately impact our District’s workers. Additional funds should be used to finance innovative technological solutions to solve long-standing transportation problems. To start, we must upgrade and spread awareness of the MBTA’s apps so that residents can access MBTA schedules, delays, and digital payment options on the fly from their phones. Additionally, MassDOT should work with municipalities to roll out “smart parking” tools that reduce traffic and allow drivers to receive real-time updates of parking availabilities near their location.
More than $5.5 billion has been set aside for upgrades to our roads, bridges, and airports. Since 2011, commute times in the Commonwealth have increased by 10.9%, and each driver pays an average of $620 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair (e.g., blown tires, damaged rims and windshields). We must fight to ensure that a significant chunk of the allocated funds goes toward improving the roads in our district to ease the congestion that disproportionately costs our residents time, money, and their health, due to vehicle emissions. Additionally, most of the $244 million for airport infrastructure should be used to reduce the air and noise pollution emitted by Logan Airport. Our residents have suffered from broken windows and higher rates of respiratory illnesses for far too long.
Massachusetts can also expect to receive $100 million for the purpose of expanding access to broadband Internet services. An estimated 11% of households in Massachusetts do not have an Internet subscription, but that percentage rises to 25% in some neighborhoods in our district. Now more than ever, Massachusetts residents need Internet service that not only connects them to a search engine, but also can support video communication. Reliable Internet service helps students connect to virtual classes, people find and apply for new jobs, healthcare professionals more easily treat their patients, and seniors maintain critical social ties amidst the country’s loneliness epidemic. We must make sure that our District is not overlooked, as it is clear there is great need here. Like many others, I want to make Massachusetts the first state in the United States to provide universal, affordable, and reliable broadband Internet to all residents. In order to do that, state officials must estimate the total cost associated with this policy and determine if the new federal funding will be enough to cover it. If not, additional state funds should be deployed.
Finally, our District is particularly vulnerable to infrastructure problems arising from climate change. While the Act grants Massachusetts funding for clean drinking water initiatives, cybersecurity, and even fighting wildfires, there is no mention of, or funding set aside for, coastal flooding, erosion, and storm surge issues. The latter issues present great risks to the safety and livelihoods of our residents. We must make clear to state officials that road and bridge improvements are less effective when they do not include companion improvements to climate resilience infrastructure. Without strong sea walls, even the best built coastal road will face significant damage.
The federal infrastructure bill is a real asset to Massachusetts as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and adapt to the 21st century world, but the cities in our District cannot be overlooked. My unique background in finance, technology and education assures that I will have a functional understanding of these issues and best protect our District.
Join us in this effort.
Anthony A. D’Ambrosio, BA Yale, MA University of Cambridge, and Candidate for State Senate.