With Wellesley in the thick of its fiscal year 2024 budget planning, sorting out what will stay or go before Town Meeting has its say in April, the idea of establishing a new position for a transportation coordinator (or mobility specialist) has generated considerable discussion.
Select Board Member Colette Aufranc, the body’s liaison regarding mobility issues, raised concerns at the board’s budget summits in December (near the end of the Wellesley Media recording) and January (about 44 minutes in) that such a staff position wasn’t included in initial budget given the town’s significant transportation issues and opportunities (grants, grants, and more grants). The idea of such a position has come up numerous times in recent years, including through the town’s Sustainable Mobility Plan.
Meghan Jop preached to the choir—the Climate Action Committee—about such a possible position at its Feb. 3 meeting, and the committee unanimously supported such a hire both on a sustainability and lifestyle basis. Transportation, next to buildings, is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Wellesley, per the town’s Climate Action Plan.
“As part of the Unified Plan, there was a host of suggestions trying to integrate our decentralized form of government around mobility and transportation because so many departments have some component of transportation,” Jop said. Having a dedicated person on the job would give Wellesley a stronger voice within regional and state groups focused on mobility and transportation, she said.
Currently, the town addresses transportation and mobility issues—from traffic intersections to electric vehicle charging stations to trail connections to MBTA accessibility—via a mix of its departments as well as through working groups and committees.
The Select Board tackled the transportation coordinator topic again at its regular meeting this week (about 2.5 hours into the recording), and while all members agreed transportation is a big issue in town, and that hiring a coordinator could be a good idea, they decided against further discussion during this budget cycle. Board member Tom Ulfelder said he sees the need for what a transportation coordinator would do, but that “it’s possible to be supportive of the position but to be concerned that we play by our own rules in terms of developing the budget.”
Future consideration of such a hire might involve a more detailed look at how communities managed similarly to Wellesley have handled such jobs—jobs that aren’t easy to fill. There was also discussion of where such a coordinator should fit within town government, such as under the executive director alongside the sustainability director and others (within the Select Board budget), or within the Planning Department.
Initial thinking on the Wellesley position would be to pay around $95K a year, though with the hope that such a hire could bring a great return on investment if Wellesley were to score big chunks of infrastructure resources available through such avenues as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. Jop said such a hire could essentially pay for their own salary by bringing more grant money to the town.
A couple of residents shared thoughts during public comments at the Select Board meeting, and board members mentioned that an increasing number of their office hours visitors have come to air transportation-related concerns.
Kayla Sheets, who said she was speaking for neighbors in the Atwood Street neighborhood that stretches between the Whole Foods plaza and Star Academy School, ticked off a handful of reasons why she and neighbors support the town hiring a staff member focused on transportation from a broad perspective. She described the street as being under siege, including by overflow parking at the school and by cut-through traffic. The hope is that a transportation coordinator would be “someone who can see that our cut-through traffic is not an Atwood neighborhood issue but rather a Rte. 16 and Rte. 135 congestion issue,” she said.
Aufranc is the most passionate board member about getting someone into a transportation coordinator role sooner than later. She told fellow Select Board members that the work to be undertaken in such a role “is not hypothetical,” but rather ongoing, and would benefit from a dedicated staff resource.
Peter Watson says
I am extremely disappointed that this proposed position will not be funded this year. The climate crisis is here, now, urgent and ongoing. One might expect that forward looking communities such as Wellesley are aware of the dire consequences of delay at every level, local, state wide, nationally and internationally. Wealthy towns like ours should be pioneers in enacting legislation and funding projects that will shift the climate needle in a positive direction. Action on these matters needs to happen now, not be kicked down the road who knows how long.