Chapter 9 – Economic Vitality Needs

The Boston MPO’s Economic Vitality Goals and Objectives


Ensure the Boston MPO’s transportation network provides a strong foundation for economic vitality.



Issue Statement

Transportation is a key factor in the region’s economic vitality. The transportation system makes economic activity possible by enabling the transport of goods and the delivery of services. The transportation sector also serves as a major economic engine itself—households, businesses, and government agencies directly consume transportation goods (e.g., vehicles and motor fuel) and services (e.g., public transit) to meet their travel needs.

Economic vitality issues related to the MPO’s long-range transportation planning include land use and freight travel. Land use planning (including development of residential, commercial, and industrial areas) needs to be coordinated with investments in transportation improvements and expansion of transportation options. The locations of different land uses, as well as patterns of regional development, impact housing costs, mobility, and commute times. The region’s economic health and growth potential is also influenced by freight movement in terms of goods and services reaching businesses and consumers. Overlaying these core issues are factors of congestion, both on roadways and transit, as well as access to housing, jobs, and transportation options.


As described above, the main economic issues that tie into the MPO’s planning process include land use and freight movement. The key to a prosperous region in the future is to coordinate development with transportation infrastructure investments. The relationship between freight transportation and economic vitality is broadly acknowledged. It is useful, however, to identify specific connections between freight and the economy which are relevant to the MPO’s planning process. Two broad connections with freight transportation and economic vitality are added expenses caused by congestion and the provision of effective and appropriate access to retail and industrial sites. 

Land use decisions and many economic development decisions in Massachusetts are directly controlled by local municipalities through zoning. At the regional level, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) is the planning agency that represents the cities and towns in the metropolitan Boston area and the Boston Region MPO area. MAPC created MetroFuture in 2008, a plan to make a “greater” Boston region—to better the lives of the people who live and work in metropolitan Boston, now and in the future. One of MetroFuture’s implementation strategies is to coordinate economic development and transportation investments to guide economic growth in the region.1 The MPO also adopted this plan as its land use vision for the Boston Region MPO area.

MAPC also works with state agencies to identify local, regional, and state-level priority development and preservation areas in municipalities in the Boston region. These areas can support additional housing, (including affordable and elderly housing) employment growth, creation and preservation of open space, and the type of continued economic vitality and future growth that the market demands, and which the communities desire. The MPO should continue to work with the MAPC and state agencies to understand the transportation infrastructure needs in these communities. In addition, the MPO can coordinate with municipalities when they are considering local land use decisions, for example, changes in zoning to encourage higher density development around existing transportation options.

The MPO is able to prioritize funding for projects that improve freight travel through its project selection criteria. Roadway projects are given points during the project prioritization and selection process for improving truck safety, movement, and access to freight-reliant industrial or commercial areas.

Working to ensure that the region’s transportation network provides a strong foundation for economic vitality is a key goal of the Boston Region MPO. In addition to prioritizing its investments on projects that improve access to priority development areas and activity centers, the MPO places importance on the equitable provision of multimodal transportation options throughout the region. These issues affect regional economic vitality and must be considered when the MPO is making decisions about both long-term and short-term transportation investments.

Economic Vitality Needs Summary 

Economic vitality needs addressed in the Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) fall into two main categories, land use and freight movement. These categories influence and are influenced by interrelated transportation issues in the Boston region including housing costs, roadway and transit congestion, and access to housing, commercial, business, and transportation/mobility options.

The ultimate goal of regional planning is to coordinate investments in housing and employment centers with investments in transportation infrastructure. This approach of linking land use and transportation can have the dual effect of guiding growth towards identified priority development areas and away from high quality natural preservation areas. In addition, making coordinated investments in affordable housing and transit infrastructure is key to responding to the needs of the workforce population. Traffic congestion, including time-consuming commutes and longer truck freight travel times, can contribute to slowing economic growth and a less competitive regional economy.

As indicated by data analysis and public outreach conducted during the development of the Needs Assessment for the new LRTP, Destination 2040, new infrastructure and upgrades to traffic and transit operations are needed to improve access to jobs and services. These include additional park-and-ride spaces, reverse-commute and off-peak services, and coordination among Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs). Regarding freight transport, there must be convenient access to the regional express highway system from warehouses and distribution centers. In addition, conflicts between automobiles (including Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) drop-offs and pick-ups), bicycles, and delivery trucks competing for curb space in urban areas need to be addressed. Economic growth in the Boston region outpaces that in the rest of the state, and growth in the Inner Core subregion is projected to continue at a faster rate than in the rest of the Boston region. This growth is adding to an increase in the number of trips made in the region and increasing congestion on a network that is either at capacity or nearing it. Congestion reduction on expressways, interchanges, and arterials is needed to facilitate the movement of people and freight to ensure that the transportation network continues to provide a strong foundation for the economy.

Table 9.1 summarizes key findings about economic vitality needs that MPO staff identified through data analysis and public input. It also includes staff recommendations for addressing each need. A description of the types of recommendations presented in the table includes the following:

Chapter 10 in this Needs Assessment—Recommendations to Address Transportation Needs in the Regionprovides more detail on each of the recommendations. The MPO board should consider these findings when prioritizing programs and projects to receive funding in the LRTP and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and when selecting studies and activities for inclusion in the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP).

Table 9-1
Economic Vitality Needs in the Boston Region Identified through
Data Analysis and Public Outreach

Emphasis Area



Recommendations to Address Needs

Land Use

Affordable housing

Address the transportation needs of low-income populations via dense, affordable housing near transit hubs and employment, particularly in the Inner Core and suburbs.

Existing Program

Regional equity program, this can be coordinated with MAPC’s work on land use issues including housing and transportation

Land Use

Access to a high-performing, multimodal transportation system

Infrastructure improvements are needed to support growth in the priority development areas, including improved equitable access to employment and housing via public transit, walking, and biking options.

Existing Programs

Intersection Improvement

Complete Streets

Bicycle and Pedestrian

Major Infrastructure

Freight Program

Proposed Programs

Bus Mobility Program

Enhanced Park-and-Ride program

Interchange Modernization

State Freight and Rail projects

Land Use

Access to jobs through reverse-commute and off-peak service

There is a need for better commuter rail scheduling, more frequent service, and off-peak service to allow for commuters to access jobs outside of the Inner Core. Also, more frequent, reliable off-peak, late-night, and weekend service to support reverse commuting and service workers on all modes throughout the region is needed.

Existing Study

Reverse-Commute Areas Analysis


RTA coordination

RTAs should coordinate service to address the needs of customers who travel between different RTA service areas; however, there are no funding sources to connect RTA services.

Existing Program

Regional Transit Service Planning and Technical Assistance



Additional parking is needed at park-and-ride lots that are at or approaching capacity.

Existing Program

Community Connections Program

Proposed Program

Enhanced Park-and-Ride program

Freight Movement


Reduce congestion on regional roadways to facilitate the movement of freight. (Increases in the costs of products and services can result from congestion due to increased payroll and vehicle costs of truck operations.)

Existing Programs

Major Infrastructure

Bottleneck Program

Proposed Program

Freight Database

Existing Studies

Addressing Safety, Mobility, and Access on Subregional Priority Roadways

Various location-specific studies and technical analysis projects implemented through the existing Freight Program

Proposed Study

Congestion Pricing Research

Freight Movement

Contested curb and arterial road usage

Reduce conflicts between automobiles and delivery trucks that are competing for curb space. 

Existing Studies

The Future of the Curb

Transportation Access Studies of Commercial Business Districts

Various location-specific studies through Freight program

Freight Movement

Appropriate freight access to retail and industrial sites

Modern logistic operations, such as warehouses, distribution centers, and motor pools, require economies of scale and convenient access to the regional express highways system.

Existing Studies

Transportation Access Studies of Commercial Business Districts

Various location-specific studies through Freight program


MAPC = Metropolitan Area Planning Council. RTA = regional transit authority. UPWP = Unified Planning Work Program.
Source: Boston Region MPO.


Understanding Economic Vitality Needs in the Boston Region

This section presents the research and analysis MPO staff conducted to understand transportation economic vitality needs in the Boston region, which have been summarized in the previous section. Supporting information MPO staff used to understand economic vitality needs is included in the Appendices of this Needs Assessment:

This section also includes a summary of input staff gathered from stakeholders and the public about economic vitality needs and proposed solutions to meet those needs. Staff considered this input when developing recommendations to achieve the MPO’s economic vitality goals and objectives. As discussed earlier, the MPO is not directly responsible for land use and economic decisions but will continue to work with MAPC and the municipalities to focus on transportation infrastructure needs that will provide a foundation for economic vitality.

MPO Research and Analysis

Land Use Needs

Land use needs in the Boston region were identified through region-specific planning and analysis as well as efforts at the state level that currently impact development patterns and associated issues such as zoning, housing policy, and the prioritization of infrastructure improvements.

Regional Needs Identification

As mentioned above, MAPC created their 30-year regional plan in 2008, MetroFuture. The MPO adopted this plan as its land use vision for the Boston Region MPO area. One of MetroFuture’s implementation strategies is to coordinate economic development and transportation investments to guide economic growth in the region. As mentioned previously, MAPC’s new regional plan, MetroCommon 2050, will not be completed until after the adoption of the LRTP Destination 2040. However, the demographic projections and land use assumptions that will be used in MetroCommon 2050 and in the Destination 2040 LRTP and its Needs Assessment have already been developed.

Statewide Needs Identification

In 2012, under the Patrick administration, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED), and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) joined together to highlight their common strategy and commitment to sustainable development and the “Planning Ahead for Growth” strategy. This strategy called for identification of priority areas where growth and preservation should occur. MAPC worked with EOHED and the EOEEA to develop a process to identify local, regional, and state level priority development and preservation areas in municipalities within the MPO area. MAPC staff worked with municipalities and state partners to identify locations throughout the region that are principal supporters of additional housing, employment growth, creation and preservation of open space, and the infrastructure improvements required to support these outcomes for each location. To date, 52 of 97 MPO municipalities have experienced this planning process, and MAPC continues to work with cities and towns to identify local priorities. Figure 9-1 shows the areas that have been identified as regionally significant priority development and preservation areas.

In 2015, Governor Baker created the Community Compact Program and Housing Choice Initiative to coordinate state and local economic development planning and to incentivize local efforts to adopt best planning practices and build more housing. MAPC staff work with EOHED and other state agencies to support these efforts. These processes help the Boston Region MPO, MAPC, and state agencies to understand both the infrastructure and technical assistance needed to encourage economic growth in order to prioritize limited regional and state funding.

Figure 9-1
Regionally Significant Priority Development and Preservation Areas

Figure 9-1 is a map of the Boston Region MPO with areas that are regionally significant priority development and preservation areas marked in blue and green respectively.

Source: Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

In 2018, the Massachusetts Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth released their Choices for Stewardship: Recommendations to Meet the Transportation Future report. It acknowledges that land use, transportation, and economic development are linked and that many of the problems of the transportation system are not driven by transportation-based decisions but instead by land use and development patterns. They acknowledged that those issues need to be addressed as part of solving current and future transportation challenges. Recommendations offered in the report include steps that can be taken at both the municipal and state levels.

Also in March of 2019, the MBTA released its Program for Mass Transportation, Focus 40, which includes its recommendations to support higher quality transit to “Priority Places” including major employment districts. Focus 40 includes recommendations on improvements to the system and place-based service additions that can support economic vitality in the region.

The MPO can coordinate with MassDOT, the MBTA, and municipalities to move the recommendations of these initiatives forward. Economic development effects are considered at the individual project level as projects are submitted for funding in the LRTP and TIP. Projects are evaluated based on their proximity to priority development areas, adoption of local zoning or other policies that support housing growth, and how well the transportation project or program would address existing and proposed economic development needs in the area. The MPO will also work with MassDOT as they implement the recommendations from the recently completed Statewide Economic Impact Evaluation Study.

Freight Needs

Regional traffic congestion can negatively affect the region’s economy, making it less competitive. Truck drivers stuck in traffic need to be compensated for their time. The payroll and vehicle costs of truck operations are reflected in the costs of products and services.

Access to retail and industrial sites is an issue which is usually addressed in later stages of project planning and project design. However, good site access for heavy vehicles, including buses, is important and should to be addressed in long-range planning at the regional level. Modern logistic operations such as warehouses, distribution centers, and motor pools require economies of scale and convenient access to the regional express highways system. The MPO currently addresses these freight needs by continuing to study key freight issues through the Freight Program. Additionally, impacts to freight movement including safe roadway design and improvements to access of key industrial and commercial areas are evaluated based on truck access to activity centers.

Stakeholder/Public Input

MPO staff received comments on the Economic Vitality goal area during outreach on transportation needs from fall 2017 through fall 2018. Over 140 respondents commented on two different themes including economic vitality and coordination with land use. The following is a summary of comments by theme.

Respondents felt that it was important to support continued regional economic vitality by improving the transportation system. This interest was highlighted by state and municipal officials, transportation advocates, business leaders and advocates, Transportation Management Associations (TMAs), transit providers, and residents.

Economic vitality concerns centered on the need to

Land use coordination concerns centered on the need to

Solutions Proposed During the Public Outreach Process

Respondents offered proposed solutions for a stronger foundation for economic vitality in the region. All input was considered when MPO staff developed its recommendations for achieving the MPO’s Economic Vitality goals and objectives. The MPO could implement many of these solutions by funding either infrastructure or operations and maintenance improvements through the LRTP or TIP or by conducting studies through the UPWP. In addition, all ideas will be shared with MassDOT and the MBTA for consideration.

Public transit

Community Transportation

Walking and Biking

Coordination with Land Use

Parking Management


updates since Charting Progress to 2040 Needs Assessment

Economic vitality continues to be an important goal for the MPO, the Commonwealth, and municipalities. The Commonwealth continues to promote initiatives to improve the economic opportunities in the region and the MPO will continue to program infrastructure and conduct studies to advance its goal. Many of the needs associated with this goal were identified in previous Needs Assessments. New developments since the Charting Progress to 2040 Needs Assessment are as follows:

The information presented in this chapter was used by the MPO to identify projects and programs for the MPO’s LRTP, TIP, and studies considered for inclusion in the MPO’s UPWP.


1    In 2019 and 2020, MAPC will update the regional land use plan, and this new plan, MetroCommon 2050 will be based on new development trends, housing needs, regional equity goals, and climate change impacts. MetroCommon 2050 will not be completed until after the adoption of the MPO’s Destination 2040, however, the demographic projections and land use assumptions for use in MetroCommon 2050 and in the Destination 2040 LRTP and Needs Assessment have been developed.

2    Chapter 40B is a state statute, which enables local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20–25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.



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