Worcester Regional Airport is projected to pump $369 million into the regional economy over 10 years, the chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority said at a Research Bureau forum Wednesday.
Thomas Glynn said a newly released economic impact report predicts a nearly 3-to-1 return on Massport’s $126 million investment over the coming decade in the regional airport it owns and operates. Besides $87 million in capital expenditures, the report calculates $40 million in net operating costs from 2014 to 2023.
Massport commissioned Frasca & Associates LLC, a New York City consulting firm, to assess the 10-year impact on Central Massachusetts’ regional economy from JetBlue Airways’ new service out of Worcester Regional and Massport’s current and future investments in the airport.
The report, released Wednesday, projects the airport could potentially serve seven daily nonstop flights and 500,000 annual passengers by 2023.
JetBlue commenced twice-daily service from Worcester on Nov. 7.
“The energy, enthusiasm and strong ticket sales for JetBlue service reflects the positive economic value the airport is already having on the Central Massachusetts economy,” said Mr. Glynn.
Mr. Glynn discussed the airport’s regional economic impact at the forum hosted by The Research Bureau at the HarvardPilgrim HealthCare Pavilion at the DCU Center. The forum’s title asked: “Is Transportation an Economic Development Engine for Central Massachusetts?”
Panelists agreed the answer is yes.
“Transportation is an economic engine not (only) of Central Massachusetts, but of Massachusetts and the region and, frankly, the United States,” said Richard Davey, state secretary of transportation.
Mr. Davey said the Patrick administration is committed to improving the state’s transportation infrastructure to boost economic development.
“We have a goal to have a traffic cone on every road in the commonwealth,” he said, to laughs from attendees. “We are making significant investments everywhere.”
Mr. Davey cited the $90 million replacement of the Burns Bridge over Lake Quinsigamond.
He also cited “huge improvements” in train service, with a boost in the number of commuter-rail trips between Boston and Worcester, the state’s two largest cities.
“Worcester is our fastest-growing line, and it is now the second-highest-utilized line in our system,” he said.
“We’re not building any more superhighways in Massachusetts,” Mr. Davey said. “We don’t have the road space. It is not our policy, as we look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our proposals around transportation have been about expansion and improved capacity on the transit side, and about making our road systems more efficient without expanding them. Transit — and rail, in particular — in this region is critically important.”
This renewed emphasis on rail travel ties in with efforts to revitalize the urban core in cities such as Worcester, said Eric Sheffels, president and chief investment officer of the real estate company Leggat McCall Properties.
The members of Generation Y in their 20s and 30s want to move back to urban enclaves, which is why fashionable and very expensive apartments are being built in Boston, Mr. Sheffels said.
Worcester is now trying to bring life back to its own downtown, with the CitySquare development “a step in the right direction,” he said. Train transportation is an important part of a revitalized downtown, Mr. Sheffels said.
The reverse commute is likewise a growing phenomenon, Mr. Davey said. Many young people want to live in Boston or Somerville at the same time they take a job in Littleton. “How to get them there?” he asked.
A 1995 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, Mr. Davey reflected on the transformation of Worcester into an aspiring transportation hub, which it decidedly was not during his college days here 20 years ago.
“I don’t think I left the Hill very much,” he said. “You had to take a cab to get downtown, if you wanted to get downtown… When I did, I came to a dirty bus station to take the bus to Boston. The train station didn’t exist, and this really beautiful downtown area was desolate.”
He gestured to the downtown view through the glass windows of the new HarvardPilgrim HealthCare Pavilion in the newly renovated DCU Center.
“Twenty years later, coming back, you can see significant progress,” he said, with a smile.