MassDOT charts course for a sustainable transportation system

By Chris McCahill

In 2010, the Massachusetts DOT announced its GreenDOT initiative, which focuses on three main goals: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting healthy transportation options, and encouraging smart growth development throughout the state. Early on the program manifested itself as a broad-based internal environmental policy, which enabled the agency to engage its staff in developing strategies to reduce environmental impacts and build a culture of sustainability. The various MassDOT divisions, including highways, aeronautics, and transit, have reduced their energy use, improved fleet efficiency, and incorporated lower emission processes such as using warm mix asphalt. The agency recognizes, however, that in order to meet legislative greenhouse gas reduction goals, it will have to carefully consider its role in influencing statewide mode choices and travel decisions among road users.

In recent testimony to the state’s House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, and in a subsequent SSTI webinar, Ned Codd, MassDOT’s Assistant Secretary for GreenDOT, stressed the agency’s commitment to reducing statewide emissions. This commitment is reinforced through its mode shift goal and its Healthy Transportation Policy Directive. These two policies ensure that decisions made in all stages of planning, programming, project development, operations, and maintenance encourage a tripling of walking, bicycling, and transit use by 2030, thereby reducing total vehicle miles traveled in the state. Codd explained:

The element of transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions that MassDOT has the most influence over is VMT and traveler behavior. By investing in facilities and infrastructure that support greater travel choice, in particular by healthy transportation modes, and by educating and encouraging travelers to make greener travel choices, we can facilitate reduced VMT. MassDOT is working to make this happen, and the current environment [relatively flat VMT since 2004] is providing some excellent opportunities in this area.

MassDOT already has programs in place that will help it meet its goals, such as MassRIDES, through which it coordinates with 650 employers around the state to provide better travel options. Codd calls the program “a good example of transportation demand management on a statewide level and a way to partner with and establish TDM associations to coordinate activities and try to get some economies of scale and some mutually supportive activities.” The agency also just released its long-range transportation plan, weMove Massachusetts, and its Capital Investment Plan for fiscal years 2014-2018, which include major investments in transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure. In a further effort to increase transparency and track its progress, MassDOT is preparing the first in a series of data- and performance-driven progress reports on GreenDOT and related initiatives, which will be released on a regular basis beginning this year.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.