Opinion: Invest in our future, not our past

Part 2
By Lawrence Abrams

BECKET — If politicians or community leaders argue that any new turnpike interchange 2.5 will spur economic growth in the region, it is a “marketing tool” to sell the idea to an uninformed and vulnerable public. “You need this interchange, you want this interchange, this interchange will make your life better if you support its development.” It is a false promise which is designed to raise expectations leaving taxpayers bearing the burden of a backward looking development plan. Furthermore it gives false hope to distressed families whose children need to move out of our region to find the better jobs.

So as Representative Smitty Pignatelli said, “let’s have the conversation.” How do we provide better economic development to attract a modern workforce to our region and how we give our residents a chance to get a larger slice of the pie?
A modern workforce communicates via computers for individual and group meetings to plan, execute and evaluate projects.

This new productivity is more on-line than in the factory or other physical workplace.
People have the opportunity not to commute to the office each day.

Some unfamiliar with this on-line option may have the attitude people who work from home are not really working. Just from watching my daughter and her husband, they do work on-line via computer and teleconferencing, and the hours go beyond the 9 to 5 of the traditional workplace.

Residents and policy makers must consider the concept of opportunity costs. Economists define them as the loss of potential gains from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen—e.g., the lost opportunity of spending money on the interchange option, instead of investing in broadband infrastructure and training for local residents.

Spending tens of millions of dollars on a highway interchange (potentially as much as $60 million for the Algerie interchange) is investing in a 20th century technology. Let’s look at the opportunity costs of spending these funds—i.e., the foregone opportunity to investment in forward looking technology.

If the goal is to attract jobs and development to the region, politicians and the public should be looking at 21st century technologies like high-speed broad band and high-speed rail.

The workplace has changed and regions which successfully promote economic development have a 21st century infrastructure.

Attracting a workforce that communicates via computers and is better able to join in the digital economy will do more to stimulate the economy than seeking to attract older forms of production.

DOT has a study in progress on this high-speed rail option running parallel with the outdated Turnpike study.

Which one of these studies should be our priority? To the extent people need to commute to a physical workspace, in Boston or Springfield for example, high speed rail would be a be faster, more comfortable and more productive option than the potential to shorten drive times by building Exit 2.5.

DOT’s goals, are far more comprehensive for the high-speed rail project: better transportation to/from Western MA; support economic development; improve attractiveness of Western MA as an affordable place to live; reduce the number of automobile trips; and reduce greenhouse gasses and air quality impact from transportation.

If the Pittsfield to Boston rail corridor comes into existence within the next 10 to 15 years (mass.gov/east-west-passenger-rail-study), along with high-speed internet throughout the Berkshires and the hill towns, the region will develop. Younger generations will stay in and/or move back to the Berkshires and Hill Towns for job opportunities while living in a bucolic environment.

If we continue to invest precious resources into old infrastructure projects like a “new” interchange, people who want better economic opportunities for themselves and their families will look elsewhere.

I am hopeful that our political and community leaders agree that The DOT should not waste our taxpayer dollars, time and effort on old solutions. I am concerned that people who have participated in a sporadic process for almost two years may view their mission through blinders which will eventually lead to an interchange.

I urge policy makers to remove the blinders and see that other options are better for the region.

Please come to the meeting to find out if politicians and community leaders will have the foresight and courage to advocate new solutions which will really bring desired change to our region. The DOT’s planning group will compile the final study report after the October 10th public meeting at Blandford Twin Hall commencing at 6:30 PM. Public comments are welcome and people who can’t make the meeting will have 30 days to comment on-line if they Google Mass DOT I-90 Interchange Study.

No doubt post time at the October 2nd Interchange Sweepstakes Meeting in Lenox should be very exciting as long as you know how the horses are positioned. Which horses will run with a forward stride and which will employ a backwards gait?

No matter how the horses run, the public needs to be made aware that our state and region must invest in more forward looking development options and hold policy-makers and elected officials accountable if they don’t deliver a better future for us all.

Lawrence Abrams is a resident of Becket and a coordinator of the opposition to the Algerie interchange.

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