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MBTA plans to spend $2 billion on upgrades, repairs next year

The MBTA's new capital budget encompasses everything from new Red and Orange Line trains to the Green Line extension to construction of a new Quincy bus garage and installation of bike racks at stations.
The MBTA's new capital budget encompasses everything from new Red and Orange Line trains to the Green Line extension to construction of a new Quincy bus garage and installation of bike racks at stations.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority expects to spend $2 billion on repairs and upgrades next fiscal year, a figure that would mark a major milestone in the agency’s push to improve its aging infrastructure.

The T has been steadily increasing its annual spending on long-term projects. It spent about $500 million in the 2015 fiscal year, during which the transit system collapsed under the weight of a disastrous series of snowstorms, compared with more than $1.6 billion last year. The MBTA expects to finish the current fiscal year, which runs through June, at $1.75 billion, before making another leap in the 2022 fiscal year when it starts in July.

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“Building off the success of the last few years, the MBTA plans to set a spending goal of $2 billion,” Jillian Linnell, the MBTA’s director of capital program planning, told the T’s governing board Monday.

The MBTA’s capital budget is separate from the more-than-$2 billion budget for daily system operations. It encompasses an array of projects — everything from new Red and Orange Line trains to the Green Line extension to construction of a new Quincy bus garage and installation of bike racks at stations.

The latest capital proposal is still in the planning stages and will be finalized later this year. But other projects that could be funded include: an extension of center-running bus lanes on Columbus Avenue currently under construction to the Ruggles Orange Line station; development of a new commuter rail facility in Boston’s Widett Circle; continued work on the commuter rail expansion to New Bedford and Fall River; and the installation of traffic signal technology in Malden and Everett that holds green lights for approaching buses.

With the pandemic severely limiting fare revenue, officials had planned to reallocate some money from the capital budget to cover shortfalls in the operating budget. But after receiving more than $1 billion in federal funding between the last two coronavirus relief bills, the MBTA said it will now be able to keep that money in place.

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The MBTA usually plans its capital spending program five years in advance, but the 2022 proposal only covers one year. The agency has pointed to the pandemic and uncertainty about future transportation needs as justification. But the year-by-year approach has been criticized by transit advocates, who are concerned that it will make it difficult for the T to develop and execute longer-term plans.

“There are several multiyear capital projects ... that would benefit from a five-year plan,” said Veena Dharmaraj, director of transportation at the Massachusetts Sierra Club, who has pushed the MBTA to develop a clear plan to electrify its bus fleet.

“A five-year [plan] would allow the T to prepare for and prioritize short- and long-term capital projects, identify funding sources, and help improve transparency in a way that aligns with the state’s transportation priorities and climate goals,” Dharmaraj added.

The MBTA says it is still charting some of these longer-term goals even with a shorter spending plan. For example, officials on Monday also presented an outline of the T’s plan to eventually run more frequent, electric service on three commuter rail lines — the Providence and Fairmount lines, as well as the part of the Newburyport/Rockport line between Beverly and Boston.

That concept is among the most ambitious the MBTA has considered in recent history, but is still years away, largely unfunded, and until now had received little public discussion since it was first promised in 2019.

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Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the T’s board, suggested Monday that the agency should include funding in the upcoming spending plan to pay for some of the key early steps to launch the service, such as planning studies and potentially leasing or buying a small roster of electric trains.