For all its natural beauty, art, culture and history, Essex County – like many others of the state’s burgeoning regions – can be a little difficult to navigate.
“We say it’s hard to get to, but worth it,” said Salem mayor, Kim Driscoll, about her city, which experiences its share of traffic and transportation issues, especially during the fall season when it becomes a major hotspot for Halloween revelers.
“It takes forever to get anywhere,” Driscoll added. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
On Nov. 28, the mayors and town administrators from more than a dozen Essex County communities met for the first of a new series of discussions on the future of transportation in the region. Hosted by Essex County Community Foundation and Senator and Mayor-Elect Tom McGee from Lynn, this regional Transportation Summit sparked an energetic discussion on the necessary first steps in solving the region’s transportation issues. Congestion, less-than-reliable rail service and outdated technology rank among some of the top issues Essex County communities face when it comes to navigating the region and traveling in and out of Boston and other parts of the Commonwealth.
“If we start to advocate as a region, we will have a larger voice with which to address the entire issue,” said McGee, who serves as the Chair of the State’s Joint Committee on Transportation.
‘Collaboration’ emerged as the main theme of the gathering, with city and town leaders agreeing that in order make region-wide transportation improvements, they will have to work together.
“As a region-wide entity, ECCF is thrilled to help convene Essex County’s cities and towns and assist in defining an overall vision for what our transportation system should look like in order to most effectively serve the needs of people travelling to, from and around Essex County,” said Jon Payson, ECCF’s board chair.
While the road to an improved transportation system may be a long one – McGee said transportation does not received adequate funding – community leaders agreed that collecting and studying available transportation data and involving other groups, such as the MBTA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), in future conversations are essential first steps. A comprehensive solution, one that considers all modes of transportation and future advances in technology, is also necessary.
“We can’t just build our way out of this by creating more lanes,” said Middleton Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan.
Once city and town officials review existing traffic and transportation studies and synthesize the data that is available, the group will convene to prioritize a set of common transportation goals that will benefit the entire region.