The first big injection of federal stimulus money for Massachusetts is coming, about $1 billion to help the MBTA and other transit systems that have been financially decimated by the coronavirus crisis.
The vast bulk of the aid will likely to go to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which has seen ridership and fare revenue nose-dive amid the economic shutdown and stay-at-home advisories due to the coronavirus.
The state’s 15 other regional transit agencies would also get smaller amounts of money. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will also receive about $63,000 for its own transportation system, according to a federal database.
The money will come from the Federal Transit Administration, which on Thursday announced how it would distribute the $25 billion for transit agencies included in the massive $2 trillion dollar relief bill signed into law last week.
The FTA will use the same formula for its annual funding of transit agencies to distribute the bailout funds to metro areas. The money is available as of Thursday, the FTA said. Massachusetts officials said they were not yet able to estimate how much will go to each transit operator in the state. Eric Bourassa, the transportation director at the regional Metropolitan Area Planning Council, estimated that the T would likely be eligible for as much as $800 million of the overall funding.
Usually big-city systems such as the MBTA are required to use federal aid for long-term capital projects and not for daily operations. But the stimulus bill allows transit agencies to use the money for operations, including to recoup losses, like the fare revenue that has dwindled with the coronavirus outbreak.
The bailout funds should give transit agencies at least a few months’ runway. Last fiscal year, for comparison, the Boston region received about $167 million from the FTA, split between the T and a few other bus systems in the region. Under the stimulus funding, the figure for agencies in the greater Boston area is closer to $880 million.
The New York region, which boasts the largest transit system in the country and has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, will receive more than $5 billion in transit funding.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said the state is still reviewing the aid package and relevant policies. State officials noted there is no expiration date on the funding, while the FTA said states would be allowed to either ask for the funding in increments as they need it or ask for one big check in the future.
The MBTA has acknowledged it is going to take a major financial hit from the pandemic. The agency expected to come up short on fare revenue by between $25 million and $35 million in in March alone, a figure that is only going to grow in April since many daily commuters will likely spend the entire month at home and the agency won’t be distributing nearly as many monthly passes. The agency must still operate enough service, however, to limit crowding onboard vehicles and help essential workers get around.
In Washington, both Congressional Democrats and President Trump have flirted with the idea of a major and much broader infrastructure package as a next-phase stimulus, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is less enthused about the idea. Trump has long promised an infrastructure package since before his election. But his administration’s one significant proposal garnered opposition because of its funding mechanisms, and the idea of a considerable infrastructure overhaul has since repeatedly failed to gain traction throughout his presidency.