Metro

Baker offers $83m cure for MBTA’s winter woes

Quincy, MA - 02/17/15 - Crews shovel snow from MBTA Red Line tracks just outside the North Quincy T station Tuesday afternoon, February 17, 2015. Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: METRO Reporter: typist Slug:
Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Crews shoveled snow from MBTA tracks just outside the North Quincy T station after a February storm.

Governor Charlie Baker unveiled an $83 million plan Thursday to make the MBTA’s subway and bus system more resilient in the face of extreme weather, a project that would likely require the T to shut down late service on the Red and Orange lines for several nights per week this summer and fall.

The plan calls for replacing electrified third rails, new snow-removal equipment, and an infusion of anti-icing gear.

With the move, Baker is taking further ownership of a public transportation crisis that has dominated state politics since blizzards and frigid temperatures crippled the T this winter.

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“I think it’s really important for people who stood for hours freezing in February to know that we have a plan with respect to next winter,” the governor said during a news conference on his proposal, and he vowed “with a fairly high degree of confidence” that the transit service would be better.

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Frank DePaola, the MBTA’s interim general manager, said the agency hopes to start the track improvements at the end of the month.

Preliminary plans call for the agency to close outdoor segments of the Red and Orange lines, which proved most susceptible to the difficult weather this winter, after 9 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday.

Priority areas for improvements will include the Red Line between JFK/UMass Station and the end of the Braintree branch, the Red Line between JFK/UMass and Shawmut Station on the Ashmont branch, and the Orange Line between Community College and Oak Grove stations.

The T will provide replacement bus service during the shutdowns.

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Baker and his transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, emphasized the winter resilience plan is just a partial fix for the beleaguered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, saying that more systemic change is required.

“This is just a down payment on the kinds of changes that we’re going to be needing,” said Pollack, adding later, “this is not going to fix the T.”

Pollack and the governor repeated their longstanding call for lawmakers to approve a legislative package that includes the creation of a fiscal and management control board that would oversee the T’s operations for three to five years.

The state Senate has approved a modified version of the control board, and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has signaled support for the concept. But key lawmakers have resisted other elements of the governor’s plan, including measures that would give the T more leeway to privatize services and raise fares.

Baker has resisted calls for tax increases and new state spending to pay for upgrades to the T.

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His $83 million winter resiliency plan would not rely on any new revenue, Department of Transportation officials said, instead tapping unused federal funds and state savings from efficiencies.

Baker’s plan was generally well-received Thursday.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, who has clashed with Baker on his larger plans to fix the T, praised the governor and Pollack “for moving quickly to address immediate infrastructure improvements at the MBTA.”

Richard A. Dimino, chief executive of the business-backed nonprofit A Better City, which advocates on transportation issues, said he was “very pleased that the governor is moving quickly to invest in making the T more resilient,” and called the agency a “cornerstone of the state’s economy.”

Rafael Mares, a public transit advocate and senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said he “wholeheartedly” supported the move, but found it ironic that the governor was announcing an investment in the T’s infrastructure even as he promoted a legislative agenda that would cut $400 million from a promised stream of funding for transportation over four years.

The winter resilience proposal, which needs the approval of the Department of Transportation’s board of directors and a regional planning organization, is based on the recommendations of a panel of experts from public transit agencies in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and other cities.

The panel released a report in April finding a number of problems with the T’s extreme- weather preparations, from poor budgeting to the continued use of wooden covers to protect track switches from the elements.

Baker’s plan includes more than a dozen measures, such as snow fences along the Red and Orange lines to stave off snow-drift accumulations, and money to hire additional snow-removal contractors.

DePaola, the T’s interim general manager, said there are also plans to deploy more staff to help manage weather emergencies. Previously, he said, the T simply piled snow- removal responsibilities on managers already busy with the normal operations of the fifth-largest transit system in the country.

“The same people tried to do multiple jobs,” he said. “They tried to deal with snow-clearing and snow management at stations and along the way, as well as the day-to-day task of running the system.”

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfen-berg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.