Under-Reporting: Community, Elected Officials Question Accuracy of Massport’s ESPR

If the explosion of traffic going into the Sumner Tunnel each morning has made East Boston residents very skeptical when government or quasi-government agencies release their predictions for growth over a multiyear span.

MassDOT thought traffic would only grow a half of a percent each year in the region over five years but traffic went off the charts and grew 45 percent more than MassDOT’s predictions.

Now Massport has released its Logan’s Environmental Status and Planning Report (ESPR) and Eastie’s elected officials like Rep. Adrian Madaro, community activists and Eastie’s long serving airport watchdog group AIR, Inc. are all crying foul.

Last Thursday, Massport hosted a public comment meeting on the ESPR before the state’s environmental agency signs off on the document but those who have read the document closely argue the passenger and flight activity forecasts included in the ESPR are way off target.

“I’m in strong opposition to the Logan Airport Environmental Status and Planning Report as submitted,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “I have reviewed ESPR 2017 and have concluded that it does not provide meaningful opportunity for the public to review the potential environmental impacts of Logan Airport.  My concern is rooted in the implausibly low forecasted passenger and aircraft activity growth rates of 1.5 percent and 1.2 percent, upon which ESPR 2017 is based.  Over the most recent five years these key growth rates have averaged 6.5 percent and 5.9 percent respectively.”

The problem with the document, says Gail Miller, AIR, Inc.’s President, is that this report is used by state regulators for official environmental review of all airport impacts. 

“If the passenger-level forecasts are wrong, then all the planning for how to manage the traffic and pollution of the future are wrong, too,” she said.

Madaro and AIR, Inc. leaders believe that the under-reporting of growth in this environmental review process creates a real vulnerability as growth is outpacing Massport mitigation to the communities of Eastie, Winthrop, Revere and Chelsea.

“It’s how we ended up with traffic gridlocking our entire community,” said Chris Marchi of AIR, Inc. “The previous ESPR in 2011 that was released in 2013 forecasted 38.9 million passengers by 2030, but Logan is actually at about 43.5 today. We’re on pace for 50 million passengers by 2022, while Massport’s present planning forecasts state we won’t reach that level until 2032 according to the current ESPR.”

AIR, Inc. is leading a regional coalition opposing the state’s Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) certification of the ESPR. The group is asking the state agency to ask Massport to voluntarily withdraw the current ESPR and re-file a “Supplemental ESPR,” which includes High Growth Scenarios for passengers and aircraft activity.

“This is a regional collaboration.” said AIR, Inc.’s Chris Marchi. “We have people in Hull, Milton, Dorchester, South Boston, Hyde Park, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Cambridge, Medford, Winthrop, Chelsea, Somerville, Revere -and many other towns joining residents of East Boston saying enough is enough! We need accurate forecasts and improved plans.”

AIR, Inc. is getting political support from Madaro who Co-Chairs the Committee on Transportation and has taken a hard line on the issue and is standing with the community.

“With Logan’s growth reported now to be so wildly out of synch with previous estimates, and regional traffic conditions in crisis, I am appalled and surprised that this document fails to provide modelling and analysis of the potential of a wide variety of incentive and disincentive programs including examination of cost adjustments in a full slate of possible Logan Express enhancements and additions, as well as study of the potential effect of imposition of airport ground access fees,” said Madaro. “Similarly, ESPR should also include further discussion and analysis of the effect of possible high speed rail, water transportation and airport regionalization strategies.  It is no longer possible for Massport planners to continue to look at only on-campus and in-state solutions to our integrated urban, regional, and New England transportation challenges.”

At the meeting Madaro added the worsening of air pollution and noise exposure and the seeming lack of urgency on behalf of Massport in acknowledging and mitigating the health consequences is no less troubling to him.

“Aircraft activity necessary to increase passenger volumes far beyond the predicted levels has created staggering increases in noise and pollution, which have increasingly obvious public health implications,” said Madaro. “Massport should take accountability for increasing noise abatement and pollution control measures by at least a magnitude equal to the recent and planned future expansions.”

Madaro also called on the state’s environmental agency to not give Massport’s ESPR a rubber stamp until they provide the Supplemental ESPR that the community is calling for.

“Future forecasts in ESPR 2017 must be adjusted to reflect current growth rates, and mitigation must be designed to offset the predictable future increases in negative environmental impacts,” said Madaro.

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