Legislative transportation plan puts Green Line grant at risk, MBTA says
Aides to Governor Deval Patrick and the MBTA warned on Wednesday that a scaled-back transportation proposal unveiled this week by legislative leaders could result in fare increases and force the state to pick up a large share of the Green Line extension’s costs.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority warned that it would lose out on more than a half-billion dollars in federal grant funding for the project under the proposal unveiled by state lawmakers Tuesday.
“The proposal released yesterday does not appear to provide funding for the MBTA’s ‘state of good repair’ work, meaning the Federal Transit Administration is not likely to fund any portion of the cost of the $1.3 billion project,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail. “Because the Commonwealth is legally obligated to extend the Green Line, $1.3 billion in state funding will be necessary to move the project forward.”
Meanwhile, State House News Service reported that Patrick administration officials were warning that the legislative plan would eventually force “steep” fare and toll hikes as well as force the state to pick up a larger share of the Green Line project.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, in a memo obtained by the News Service, warned that the plan could lead to shuttered Registry of Motor Vehicles branches, MBTA fare and toll increases, and represents “another short-term band-aid” for transportation.
In the memo from Davey to Patrick, Davey warned that the public could feel the effects if an “insufficient” revenue plan is passed.
“If sufficient revenues to address this gap are not advanced, we must consider options that include weight restrictions on bridges, cessation of projects and the closure of registry branches or other services to create sufficient funding for capital investment,” Davey wrote, according to the memo. It went on to say the plan reflects “an alarming lack of support for fixing our roads, bridges, and trains.”
The $500 million proposal presented by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray would raise gas, tobacco, and business-related taxes and was billed as an effort to put the MBTA and regional bus systems on firmer financial footing.
However, it is smaller than the $1.9-billion plan put forth by the governor. His plan would be financed by an income tax hike and include money for schools, as well as roads, bridges, and transit projects.
One high-profile project affected by the dueling proposals is the Green Line Extension, which broke ground late last year. It is expected to be completed by 2020.
The state is seeking $557 million in funding for the project through New Starts, a grant program run by the Federal Transit Administration. As part of its review of applicants, the federal agency considers funding commitments for proposed projects, and takes into account proposed legislation and state budgets.
While the MBTA is confident the Legislature’s transit proposal would jeopardize grant funding, state Senator Patricia Jehlen, Democrat of Somerville, said it was too early to know for certain.
“I don’t think there’s been time to process it,” she said. “It’s something I’m concerned about, but I can’t say with certainty whether we are putting federal money at risk.”
Under a legal settlement with the Conservation Law Foundation related to mitigation from the Big Dig, the state is required to extend the Green Line from its current northern terminal station at Lechmere in Cambridge through Somerville to College Avenue in Medford, creating six new stops and replacing Lechmere.
Losing out on federal funding wouldn’t jeopardize the project as a whole, but it could mean the state would likely have to pick up the entire cost, Jehlen said.
“It could really put an enormous burden on the rest of the state,” she said. “That’s another $600 million the state would have to pick up and shove everything else to the bottom of the heap.”
It would also make a proposed second leg of the extension — to Route 16 in Medford — unlikely, she said.