Few issues vex Greater Boston’s employers like the state’s creaky transportation network — its overtaxed trains, roads, and bridges. And there usually aren’t enough funds to make a big dent in the problem.
But there’s a new partnership underway in Cambridge’s booming Kendall Square that could represent a possible solution. City and state officials expect to sign an agreement with Boston Properties this month that would set aside $6 million from the developer for transit improvements there.
The money would go toward a mix of short-term fixes, such as expanded MBTA bus service or more privately subsidized EZRide shuttles between Kendall and North Station, and longer-term improvements like new technology on the Red Line, or dedicated lanes for “rapid-transit” buses.
Boston Properties agreed to the contribution as part of discussions to gain approvals for 1 million square feet of housing and offices along Broadway and Binney Street. The project includes a new headquarters for Akamai Technologies.
“This is an exciting step as we look to continue to expand the system and provide the best services we can for our riders with the financial resources we have,” said Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator.
The injection of funds comes as Bridj, the Boston private bus startup, shuts down. Bridj abruptly ended its transit service routes, which included shuttles to Kendall, over the weekend.
Jim Gascoigne, executive director of the Charles River Transportation Management Association, said the road and transit options for commuters who work in Kendall Square haven’t kept up with the pace of construction in the high-tech hotbed.
“[There] is a much greater density of people in this area,” said Gascoigne, whose business-funded group operates the EZRide shuttles. “But the roadways haven’t gotten any bigger. There aren’t more bridges across the river. The T hasn’t necessarily expanded . . . If people have headaches getting here, the area isn’t going to work.”
State officials have been encouraging more of these public-private partnerships, in various forms. There’s the New Balance sponsorship of the Boston Landing commuter train station in Brighton, for example, and Federal Realty Investment Trust’s financial contribution to the Assembly station on the Orange Line in Somerville.
State officials said the Kendall program is different in that it is designed for multiple developers and landowners to come into the mix, ideally to address the needs of a broader area, not just one station.
And unlike the station-specific projects, some of this money can go to operating expenses.
A panel of stakeholders would recommend the best fixes to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and to other city and state agencies.
Baker administration officials hope the approach can be replicated in other parts of the MBTA system. “If this actually works, this could be a model that we do in other cities and towns,” said David Mohler, executive director of planning at the state Department of Transportation.
Rafael Mares, a vice president with the Conservation Law Foundation who specializes in transportation issues, praised Boston Properties’ contribution. But he said he’s concerned lower-income communities could be left out if the Baker administration primarily relies on private-sector investments for new transportation projects.
“I don’t want the T to reject these opportunities,” Mares said. “What I don’t want to see is that being the only model for transit expansion.