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WTS-Boston - March Luncheon

March 30, 2015 09:44 AM

By: Prarthana Banerji, HDR Inc.

WTS-Boston welcomed Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, as the guest speaker at our monthly luncheon on March 12, 2015.  The Secretary’s presentation was titled, “Transportation Goals for the Commonwealth”.  In Secretary Pollack’s position she is the head of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and other agencies in the Commonwealth under Governor Baker’s administration.  These agencies consist of: Highway, Mass Transit, Aeronautics and the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), in addition to the Office of Planning and Programming.

Prior to her appointment, Secretary Pollack spent the past decade working in public policy research as associate director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern since 2005, where she has also served as an adjunct professor sharing her skills and experience with the next generation of public policy leaders. Secretary Pollack has also provided over a decade of strategic consulting on transportation issues to the public and private sectors including the Boston Transportation Department and Massachusetts Port Authority, following a distinguished career at the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston. She has been active in public policy issues affecting transportation, development and sustainability nationally and locally, serving on numerous boards and advisory bodies including MassDOT’s Transportation Advisory Committee and chairing the Transportation Advisory Committee in her hometown of Newton.

The Secretary began her presentation by talking about her first month in office and the expectations of her to develop a comprehensive policy and vision. But that took a backseat as she started her duties at a time when Massachusetts was facing the beginning of a historic winter with massive amounts of snow week after week. The severe weather led to some hard decisions in issuing several travel bans. Secretary Pollack emphasized that “safety above all” is her top priority in such conditions and hence issuing those bans was the need of the hour.

With over two-hundred attendees, the Secretary shared her presentation titled, “Setting a Transportation Policy and Creating a Vision”. It includes: 

  • Defining “the problem” precisely;
  • Collecting data and relevant information; and
  • Talking to people, but mostly to listen.

Secretary Pollack pointed out that it is not only the Secretary’s job to make a concrete plan for transportation oversight and development but also to put a philosophy in place. Her philosophy involves putting people at the center of transportation. She explained that if we ask the wrong questions we are bound to receive the wrong answers. She then demonstrated examples of the failed attempt at building the “Inner Belt Project” (Interstate 95).  Consequently, when wrong questions are asked it leads to wrong answers, and the eventual failure of the project.  Therefore, she reiterated the need to define the problem correctly, including the “Policy of Motion” for walking, biking, and transit.  This can be achieved by determining the various options to move people by utilizing a split mode of transportation that includes shorter trips by incorporating the walk, bike, and transit routes from the start to the end of the trip.

Secretary Polack’s remarks also highlighted the MBTA and the need for accurate forecasting for ridership.  The Secretary stated that the MBTA not only needs repairs but also needs to be able to expand the capacity at a healthy rate in order to sustain the growing passenger rates which are projected to reach 1.5 million riders by the year 2020.

Secretary Pollack shared that the third point in her strategy was the most crucial point out of all of them – to engage people and listen. She gave the audience insight into a study which she led while at the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy that drove home the point that transportation was not just about the modes of travel, but it involved “People” and “Places” as the most important aspects of the problem.

In closing, Secretary Pollack explained the 4 P’s of transportation which are:

  1. Performance Metrics and Management
  2. Planning (Not Transportation Planning)
  3. Prioritizing and,
  4. Partnerships

She noted that Public Private Partnerships are a welcome tool to meet some of the Commonwealth’s transportation needs and to build “gateway cities” in Massachusetts. She reiterated that having a powerful vision will pave the way for how we pay for the various projects across the Commonwealth and in turn will also lead to a well-organized transportation system.




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