The MBTA will launch a new search for a company to build an electric bus facility in Quincy after both bids for the project came in over budget, the T’s General Manager Steve Poftak announced Thursday.
“We had to terminate the procurement for the construction,” Poftak told MBTA board members. “We are currently working to address some of the issues with that and we are hopeful to be out re-procuring very shortly and minimizing the impact on schedule.”
The decision comes after a Globe review found that the $402.1 million price tag for the 120-bus maintenance and storage facility, scheduled for completion in 2024, exceeds the budgets of similar projects completed or underway in other US and Canadian cities.
In its project announcement to construction companies, the MBTA estimated the contract value to be around $280 million. The two bids that came in for the project were both over budget, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail.
“The MBTA is evaluating the scope and options to bring the cost down without impacting the core functionality of the building,” he said.
In 2017, the MBTA said it expected to spend $808 million to modernize or replace its nine aging bus garages. Five years later, the agency’s most recent cost estimate for replacing the century-old garage in Quincy, the first of those projects, will eat up half that amount — $402.1 million.
The procurement setback comes three months after Poftak, Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other elected leaders gathered in Quincy to celebrate the facility’s groundbreaking amid questions from transportation and environmental advocates about the eye-popping cost and the T’s decision to use diesel components for its electric buses there.
The T’s plans call for a new 360,000-square-foot, three-story facility on the site of a former Lowe’s on Thomas Burgin Parkway with rooftop solar panels, locker and training rooms, bike storage, and T offices, in addition to bus charging and maintenance space. The MBTA initially plans to house 45 new battery-electric buses and around 45 of the agency’s diesel buses there. After the facility opens, the MBTA anticipates buying 75 more battery-electric buses to replace the diesel ones.
The total price of the Quincy project included in the MBTA’s five-year spending plan is $30 million higher than it was in the agency’s spending plan published just a year ago. In a budget breakdown of the earlier, lower cost provided by Pesaturo, construction was the largest expense at $210 million, including $30 million for battery-electric charging equipment, plus a $42 million contingency, followed by the real estate acquisition at $44 million.
Earlier this year, the Globe requested full budget breakdowns from eight transit agencies across the United States and Canada that have recently completed or are working on large bus facilities. All in all, the MBTA plans to spend almost $3.36 million per bus on the Quincy garage, more than projects similar in size and specifications elsewhere, including in Montréal and Minneapolis.
The MBTA previously cited several factors that contribute to its higher costs: electrical work such as a switching station and duct banks; equipment to support a full battery-electric bus fleet; additional square footage to allow for counterclockwise circulation to support worker safety and operational efficiency; labor, given the high cost of living in Boston; administrative costs, current cost volatility, and supply chain issues.
In Massachusetts, the transportation sector accounts for the largest portion of the state’s emissions, and electrifying all kinds of transportation is central to the state’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
The next new bus garage on the MBTA’s list is Arborway, a 200-bus facility in Jamaica Plain it plans to complete in 2027. The MBTA’s procurement trouble with the Quincy facility does not change the schedule for Arborway, Pesaturo said.
The agency has not yet determined budgets for the Arborway garage or updating its 35-bus North Cambridge garage, which it plans to complete next year. After that, the MBTA plans to build a 200-bus facility in Wellington by 2029 and a 65-bus facility in Lynn by 2030, and then rebuild its Cabot, Charlestown, Southampton, and Albany facilities.
Advocates are urging the agency to consider teaming up with private developers to lighten the T’s financial load and bring benefits to the surrounding communities by including affordable housing, supportive housing, health services, and retail space as part of the design.
Pesaturo said previously the MBTA is advancing a concept for the Arborway site that includes around 8 acres of land along Washington Street that will be made available for development.