Mass. still short on transportation funding, report says
The Massachusetts transportation system needs an $8.4 billion infusion of new spending over the next 10 years to adequately fund repairs, according to a new report published Thursday.
The report, from the Boston-based business organization A Better City, concludes that the state will likely need to raise new transportation revenue to maintain the state’s highways, bridges, tunnels, and the MBTA.
The report serves as an update to a 2007 state review that found the transportation network needed a major increase in spending and a series of reforms to be properly funded. Rick Dimino, the group’s president, said there has been some progress since then, but the state still needs to identify how it will pay for improvements to an increasingly gridlocked system.
“We think the transportation system has made a lot of progress. We think the managers of the transportation system have made a lot of progress. But there’s still a lot of work left to do,” he said. “We continue to kick the can down the road.”
The report found that the highway system is responsible for the bulk of the shortfall — about $6.5 billion. While Governor Charlie Baker’s five-year, $8 billion spending plan on the MBTA is likely enough for now, the agency will probably need to take on new debt after 2023 to pay for backlogged repairs.
That debt would create new costs in the agency’s operating budget that would not be covered by fare increases alone, according to the report.
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the state officials have not had time to fully review the report, but noted that the transportation department and MBTA plan to invest $17 billion over the next five years to maintain and modernize the system.
The MBTA, she added, is taking a full assessment of how much it needs to spend each year to eliminate its repair backlog by 2032. State officials have previously said it would cost more than $1 billion a year to reach that goal.
Pollack also singled out one issue with the organization’s report: it lists a series of projects as unfunded even though the state has no plans to undertake many of them, such as a Blue Line extension to Lynn, anytime soon.
The report, however, is primarily focused on repair and modernization work, and cites state documents to support its conclusions. For example, one document forecasts that the condition of highway pavement and bridges will worsen unless spending increases.
The report doesn’t account for several big but unfunded projects in the works, such as lowering the Massachusetts Turnpike near Boston University, rebuilding the road network along the Cape Cod Canal, and building a new commuter rail line to New Bedford and Fall River.
Dimino’s group recommends the state find new revenue sources for transportation projects, such as raising fees on Uber and Lyft rides, increasing the gas tax, charging motorists based on how many miles they drive, installing new tolls on state highways, or selling permits to fuel distributors based on pollution and investing the proceeds in the transportation system.
Baker, in partnership with other governors in the region, is considering the fuel distribution charge, but has generally been reluctant about adopting other transportation-related fees or taxes.
In 2018, Baker appointed a commission to study the future of transportation in Massachusetts. The group came back with a report in December, saying Massachusetts should emphasize public transit and move toward electric vehicles to reduce pollution.
But for the most part, the report did not grapple with questions of funding or costs, except to say the state must develop a long-term financial plan.