$14.8 billion transit budget seeks to boost reliability
More than half of the $14.8 billion the state transportation department and the MBTA plan to spend on large-scale projects over the next five years will go toward improving the reliability of the public transit and highway systems.
The capital plan, approved by the transportation department’s board at its monthly meeting Monday, represents about a $500 million increase from the blueprint outlined in March. The increased capital budget for the T and the state transportation department comes as the state struggles with its own budget troubles, and the MBTA continues to scramble to keep up with its previously planned spending.
“We’re still struggling to get our capital spending to the level that it needs to be,” Steve Poftak, a member of the MBTA’s fiscal control board that oversees the agency, said Monday.
Starting this year, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Department of Transportation changed the way they present their five-year capital plans, by combining the two separate budgets into one and using a formal evaluation system to choose projects. The emphasis on reliability in the budget comes two winters after the transit system was hobbled by record-breaking storms.
The plan approved Monday sets aside nearly $4 billion over the next five years to fix the MBTA’s aging infrastructure, including $1 billion for track, signal, and power improvements, as well as about $1.6 billion for new buses and trains. It also includes about $1.1 billion for the Green Line extension into Medford and Somerville.
Officials had initially laid out a $14.3 billion capital investment plan in March.
But officials on Monday said they added about $55.7 million for a new maintenance facility for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority; an additional $22.4 million for the final design for all-electronic tolling coming to the state’s highways in October; and about $117 million for MBTA bridges that had not been included in the first version of the plan. A number of road projects were also included.
Governor Charlie Baker praised the plan in a statement, saying that it “will allow for much-needed upgrades” at the T, as well as roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
But John Pourbaix, the executive director of the Construction Industries of Massachusetts, said it was a “huge concern” that the plan proposed to cut the highway division's budget by 27 percent over the next five years, to an average of less than $1.2 billion a year.
In another development Monday, the MBTA’s fiscal control board approved a contract with a 400-member management union. The agreement would give T managers a 9.5 percent raise over the next three years, but also eliminate for new hires a “deferred compensation” program that a consultant once estimated to cost the T about $6 million a year.
The T introduced deferred compensation to entice workers into management by promising them an extra retirement payout. Officials in January said they had about $80 million in unfunded liability for the program.