Rep. Cusack Behind Bill to Require Local Approval of MBTA Billboards

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court four years ago that the MBTA could put up billboards on its property without local zoning review.

Legislation filed by state Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, that would require the MBTA to receive approval from local officials before placing above-ground advertisements in their communities received a hearing before the Joint Committee on Transportation earlier this week.

The bill stems from a decision four years ago by the Supreme Judicial Court that said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could place billboards on its property without local zoning review. Following that decision, the MBTA announced that it would begin to erect advertisements throughout its properties to generate millions of dollars in new revenues.

In spring 2009, the agency said it would auction off space for 60 billboards worth $6 million annually, according to the Boston Globe. MBTA property along Route 3 in Braintree was included in the proposal, which in total covered 19 cities and towns.

However, the backlash from state and local officials and residents was intense, and the agency decided against plans to put advertisements along the highway in Braintree, Quincy and Canton, according to the Patriot Ledger. At the time, the MBTA already had some 200 billboards in place, but the criticism was directed at the idea of the agency potentially forcing new signs on communities against their objections.

"I understand the need for the MBTA to raise revenue, which is why this legislation does not prevent them from having any billboards erected along the Red Line," Cusack said in a statement. "It simply states that if they wish to do so it must be in full compliance with the local ordinances of Braintree or any community in the Commonwealth."

Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said on Tuesday that the MBTA has "no immediate plans" for billboards in Braintree and that the agency will review Cusack's legislation.

"We're very supportive of the efforts of Rep. Cusack," Mayor Joseph Sullivan said on Wednesday morning. His Chief of Staff and Operations Peter Morin added that officials from Braintree and other communities pointed out to the MBTA at the time that its proposal contradicted an agreement made with Greenbush Line towns.

"That was an education for local officials and we want to prevent a recurrence if the MBTA seeks to do it in the future," Morin said.

The bill awaits further action from the transportation committee.

“We have worked hard to preserve and enhance our quality of life here in Braintree," Cusack said. "Neither the MBTA nor any state agency should be able to come into our town, trump our laws and negatively impact us against our will.”


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