MBTA sets upgrade costs at $6.7b
Board skeptical on rider refunds
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would need to spend about $6.7 billion to repair and modernize its trains, rails, and stations, a figure that is more than double the previous estimate, according to figures revealed by a T official on Tuesday.
The figures were announced a day before Governor Charlie Baker is expected to unveil his proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year, which would include about $1.17 billion to operate the T. Money for repairs or upgrades is included in a capital budget that has not been released yet.
Also Tuesday, members of the board that oversees the T expressed skepticism about issuing refunds for poor service during this winter’s snowstorms. Angry commuters have demanded reimbursement, but several board members said the agency’s need for repairs and upgrades took priority. Various proposals for refunds or discounts presented Tuesday would cost between $3.6 million and $10.5 million.
“If we take these millions and use it this way, then we don’t have that money to invest in the system,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told members of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board during a finance committee meeting.
The board could vote on whether to compensate riders for poor service as early as March 11.
Board members on Tuesday seemed more concerned about the need to come up with $6.7 billion to address a backlog of repairs and upgrades, estimates Pollack and board member Janice Loux called “daunting.”
“If we’re really serious about managing and fixing the problem, then we’ve got to stay focused on this,” Loux said.
Close watchers of the MBTA have long known the system has lagged in updating its aged fleets and infrastructure. For example, T officials admitted that the Orange Line cars rolled out in the late 1970s and early 1980s have never been substantially upgraded to ensure they were running efficiently.
The T is spending $222 million to put 40 new locomotives onto commuter rail lines, and the transportation department has approved $566 million for the purchase of new Orange and Red Line cars.
The T, like other transit agencies, keeps track of how much it needs to keep its vehicles and other infrastructure in proper working order by examining how much it would cost to update or replace each piece of equipment.
In 2009, an independent review revealed that the agency estimated it would need about $3.1 billion to properly update and maintain the system.
The new estimate, $6.7 billion, reflects that the T has not been able to keep up with repairs and upgrades as its equipment ages, according to Robert Guptill, the MBTA manager of systems integration, who presented the figures to the board. He also said this estimate reflects a more complete examination of the T’s equipment than the estimate six years ago.
The new estimate is not complete, however. It includes the cost of some commuter rail locomotives and coaches, and improvements in parking facilities, and bridges, but not all of them, according to Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman. The cost could go higher.
Baker has appointed a group of transit and infrastructure experts to look into the T, and he said in a statement on Tuesday that he awaited their recommendations “guiding our efforts to improve the MBTA for the long haul.”
Public transportation advocates say the most pressing need is investment.
“What we really need to do is get them enough money to make sure we don’t fall further behind on the state of good repairs,” said Rafael Mares, a senior lawyer from the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization.
MBTA staff members also provided the first glimpse into the winter storm recovery costs, which include shoveling millions of cubic feet of snow from subway tracks, commuter rail stations, and bus stops. This is the second snowiest winter in Boston history.
The T’s chief financial officer, Jonathan Davis, estimated the storm recovery would cost the system about $30.4 million, and that the T lost about $6 million in revenue when it shut down operations on several days in January and February when the region was battered by a blizzard and other storms.