RT 95 North Back Up

Traffic was backs up on Interstate 95 North in Attleboro.

Local legislators acknowledge that Massachusetts has a traffic congestion problem and many of them drive in it every day. Still, a few of them regularly take public transportation.

Of the five representatives and two senators in the area, two said they take the commuter rail on a regular basis. The rest rely on their car and the free parking garage spaces they get on Beacon Hill.

That is somewhat consistent with a Boston Globe survey of 134 state and municipal officials that found 85 percent of them drive to work and only seven own transit passes.

Locally, there is plenty of access to commuter rails with two stations in Attleboro and one each in Mansfield, Norfolk and Foxboro.

State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said he drives to Boston because the parking lot at the downtown Attleboro train station is full by 7:30 a.m.

He also said legislators work odd hours that do not lend themselves to a train schedule.

But he defended his record on public transportation, saying he is deeply involved in issues such as upgrades to stations and providing commuter platforms so people can board and debark trains quicker, making commutes shorter.

One of his main issues has been pushing the MBTA to build a new pedestrian overpass at the South Attleboro station because the existing one is corroded.

He also said he is working with city officials and a private developer to get more parking at the South Attleboro station and that could free up more spaces at the downtown lot.

Hawkins said that well into the future, perhaps nine or 10 years, it’s possible the downtown station could get a parking garage, and he supports that.

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, and Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, said they both take the train when the schedule works for them and drive other times.

“I try my hardest to take the train, so luckily we have a great schedule and service out of Mansfield,” Barrows said.

“I take commuter rail whenever possible,” Dooley said. “It is great — I get to ride with my wife and since we live right next to the station, it is a short five-minute walk.”

However, like Hawkins and the other lawmakers interviewed by The Sun Chronicle, Dooley said the unusual hours legislators work when they are in formal session makes taking the train difficult.

Formal session is when the full House and-or Senate debate and vote on bills, and the sessions sometimes go late into the night. On non-session days, they attend committee meetings and do office work.

On formal session days, Dooley said he drives. For instance, last Wednesday the House adjourned at 12:45 a.m. after a long day of votes and debate, so he said he took his car to work.

State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, said it is not just difficult getting into and out of Boston with a legislator’s schedule, it is nearly impossible to travel within her district by public transportation.

Her district runs from Needham to Attleboro and there is no service from her home to places in the middle of her district, such as Plainville.

Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, said he mostly drives to Boston, but when he does he often carpools with Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro.

“That’s one less car on the road,” he said.

He acknowledged it would be “good if we could” for legislators to take public transportation, but it is not practical many times.

Often when he is at the Statehouse, Howitt said, he has to hurry back to the district to attend an event early in the evening. Taking the train would not get him back in time, he said.

Like the other legislators, Howitt emphasized that the value of the free parking spaces they receive on Beacon Hill is taxed as income. Barrows said they are taxed on the parking spots whether they use them or not.

Poirier said carpooling allows Howitt and her to use the HOV lane on the expressway. Other times, she said, she drives in alone.

She also said the unusual hours for legislators make it too difficult to take the train.

Often she has meetings in North Attleboro early and leaves for the Statehouse later in the morning. Sometimes, she said, a formal session might end at 2 p.m., but she has to be back in the district for something.

The train is only convenient for people who work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said.

But, she said, just because she doesn’t use public transportation doesn’t mean she doesn’t know about its problems.

“We hear it all the time from our constituents, believe me,” she said.

State Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, could not be reached for comment.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or jhand@thesunchronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.

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