Massachusetts transportation agencies are still sorting through the new federal infrastructure law to determine how to spend an influx of cash over the next five years.
The state can expect to receive around $8.5 billion for transportation, including funding for airports, public transit, roads, bridges, and electric vehicle chargers, and will be able to compete for billions of dollars in grants meant for transportation projects, according to a preliminary analysis from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
General Manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Steve Poftak and Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler said at an MBTA board meeting Wednesday that they will have a more detailed analysis of how the money will be spent at the next board meeting in December.
“We have a significant shelf full of projects that can be ready to go within the time frame envisioned in this bill,” said Poftak. “It will not be a challenge for us to come up with projects . . . it may be a challenge for us to sequence and prioritize them, but we have been doing a significant amount of preparation for this bill.”
The MBTA and MassDOT already receive millions of dollars of federal funding each year. The federal infrastructure law signed by President Biden this week maintains those funding levels over the next five years and adds to them.
At a meeting before the MBTA board’s Audit and Finance Subcommittee last week, the MBTA’s director of capital planning, Jillian Linnell, said a preliminary analysis shows the new law will provide the agency with around $483.1 million in fiscal year 2022 compared to $390.6 million in fiscal year 2021, or a 23.6 percent increase. Linnell said the MBTA could receive around $350 million in additional funding thanks to the bill over the course of five years.
This doesn’t include grant funds the MBTA will compete for with other transit agencies. The state is awaiting specifics about the competitive funds from the federal government, Tesler said.
Poftak tempered expectations Wednesday about what can be accomplished with both kinds of funds.
“We are grateful for the money, I think we are still trying to understand the magnitude of the money we will actually receive,” said Poftak. “I have seen in the popular press lots of thoughtful, creative ideas of how we could spend the money. I do caution that the money may not go that far.”
Transportation advocates are hopeful projects that have been in the works for years will be boosted by the funds, including the connection between the MBTA’s Red Line and Blue Line, lowering the Massachusetts Turnpike in Allston to ground level, and electrifying the MBTA’s bus and commuter rail systems.
Poftak and Tesler said their agencies have been preparing for the new funds for a long time.
Asked for specifics about what road and bridge projects will take priority, MassDOT spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard declined to comment. MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo referred to the T’s existing five-year capital plan that includes dozens of projects to improve reliability, and modernize and expand the transit system.
Even with the new money, the MBTA is still facing a funding cliff in the fiscal year that begins in 2023, a report from the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation concluded earlier this year. The agency’s operating and capital shortfalls will require $1.25 billion in new funding for the MBTA annually, the foundation’s report found.