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  • Globe South   September 25, 2014

    Traffic, long commutes hamper South Shore suburbs

    Lengthy commutes and clogged roads are not only a daily headache for many residents, but they also pose a risk to the long-term economic vitality of the south suburbs, according to a recent report.

    In Norfolk and Plymouth counties, the proportion of workers commuting at least 45 minutes rose 2.1 percent between 2000 and 2012, the report by the South Shore Chamber of Commerce said, citing census data. In all, 27.8 percent of workers had a minimum 45-minute trip in 2012, 4.8 percent more than the proportion in all of Greater Boston.

    “Frustration with long commutes was a consistent theme throughout the public input process” of the study, said the report, now in final draft form. It observed that respondents found traffic congestion was a “key competitive concern for the South Shore.”

    Improving transportation is just one of several major regional challenges identified in the Competitive Assessment study, part of a 10-month-long initiative by the chamber to create a regional development strategy for the south suburbs. A consultant, Atlanta-based Market Street Services, is working with a chamber steering committee on the effort.

    “The South Shore has an enormous amount of assets. It’s about connecting the dots and putting them all together and getting consensus to move forward,” said J. Mac Holladay, chief executive oficer of Market Street Services.

    The report, whose findings were outlined at a recent chamber lunch, said this region enjoys such advantages as wealthy communities, proximity to Boston, a well-educated workforce, generally good schools, and natural beauty. But it said the area “cannot afford to be complacent.”

    “While the region is generally prosperous today, communities all over the country are competing for jobs, talent, and investment. Those that are not proactively engaged in this process will fall behind. And . . . the South Shore is facing several challenges to its long-term economic and overall health that must be addressed in a similar fashion,” the report said.

    ‘Frustration with long commutes was a consistent theme throughout the public input process’ of the study.

    Citing some of the other challenges, it said the region’s population is aging and growing at a relatively slow pace, and its economy remains service-dependent and has not fully recovered from the recession. It also said that while schools are strong overall, some are lagging behind, and that in an overall wealthy region there are “pockets of economic distress.”

    And it found that building regulations in some communities are making it difficult for the region to develop the new housing needed to attract new and younger residents.

    “We see a lot of growth and change coming to the South Shore,” said Peter Forman, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer. He said a focus of the study is “how we can make sure this growth works well for the South Shore.”

    Kenneth K. Quigley Jr., president of Curry College in Milton and cochairman of the chamber steering committee, said the chamber has “a long history of leadership in economic development, including most recently being an advocate for the Greenbush commuter rail line.” He said the current initiative is a “natural next step” for the group in carrying out that role.

    Speaking at the recent chamber lunch, Gregory Bialecki, the state’s housing and economic development secretary, said preparing a long-term economic blueprint is a valuable exercise for any region. He said the chamber effort is particularly timely because it will help guide the new governor who takes office in January.

    The new administration will be “hungry to understand what are the on-the-ground opportunities” for growth, he said.

    “We are just at the start of the journey, but it’s really exciting to me and I think to the rest of the chamber,” said Ray Belanger, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors and the owner of Bay Copy in Rockland. “This is something that can unite multiple stakeholders in our area for the common good.”

    The planning effort defines what it calls the South Shore as consisting of 25 communities: Abington, Braintree, Canton, Carver, Cohasset, Duxbury, Halifax, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Holbrook, Hull, Kingston, Marshfield, Milton, Norwell, Pembroke, Plymouth, Plympton, Quincy, Randolph, Rockland, Scituate, Weymouth, and Whitman.

    The report said that expanding ridership on commuter rail could ease the region’s highway congestion and that promoting more housing around transit stations would help accomplish that.

    Forman said the transportation focus for the region will need to shift from “how to get people in and out of Boston to “how do you move people within the region.” He said creating more local jobs could help reduce commuting times and alleviate traffic snarls, while also serving to attract more young people.

    In pointing to the region as an aging area, the study said that individuals ages 45 to 64 make up 29.6 percent of the population in the 25 communities, compared with 24.8 percent for those 25 to 44, citing census data. It called that difference “a major competitive threat” for the region.

    While there was an uptick in the number of people migrating into Norfolk and Plymouth counties in 2012 and 2013, the report said “the region’s age dynamics are so unfavorable that it needs to attract even more in-migrants in the years to come if it is to maintain its talented workforce.”

    Forman said the finding that this region is failing to adequately attract young people is an important one that points to the overall danger of complacency for the region.

    “You don’t want to slide backwards economically or slide backwards on your quality of life,” he said.

    John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.