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Should the MBTA develop a high-frequency rapid-transit urban rail service?

Thomas M. McGeehandout


Thomas M. McGee

Mayor of Lynn

The people of Lynn, the North Shore, and the Boston region need improved transportation. That requires better use of what we have, and our underutilized rail network is one of the few transportation modes that can significantly add capacity.

The Urban Rail proposal, which our state legislative delegation and I support, provides the region’s residents with frequent, affordable rail service, solving problems for everyone, not just people who ride trains.

First, it creates easy access to employment in and around Boston, which is a daily struggle.

Second, it makes fares reasonable, so that people in low- or moderate-wage jobs can actually afford to get to work, particularly in the service jobs that support our economy.


Third, it gets people out of cars, reducing our horrendous roadway congestion and climate pollution.

Urban Rail will increase ridership for large numbers of people not served by today’s infrequent, high-fare commuter service.

Recently, the MBTA Rail Vision Advisory Committee analyzed six alternatives to our current system, which today covers nearly 400 miles and 139 stations. The Urban Rail proposal fits into the most ambitious alternative, which has also been endorsed by the Commuter Rail Communities Coalition, a group of mayors and town managers I am honored to co-chair.

This vision, of a fully electrified, connected, high-frequency MBTA commuter rail system, serving fully accessible stations, would transform the entire region. It will help with congestion, the environment, and access to housing and jobs.

That bold vision will take years, money, and political will; however, in order for our region to thrive, we can’t be scared of big plans. In fact, a recent report from the organization A Better City shows how the MBTA’s current $2 billion budget supports $11.4 billion in economic activity.

To support our economy and ensure that everyone has access to opportunity requires a serious commitment to transformed transportation in the long term, and to the building blocks to help make progress in the near term. Urban Rail is one of these building blocks.


For our people and our future, the time for action on transportation is now, starting with Urban Rail.

David G. Tuerckhandout


David G. Tuerck

Franklin resident, president of president of the Beacon Hill Institute; professor of economics at Suffolk University

A group called the “Rail Vision Advisory Committee” has a plan for you, or rather it has a smorgasbord of plans costing from $1.7 billion to $28.9 billion that lets you pick how much more you want to pay in taxes and how much disruption in everyday life you want to suffer in the name of “transforming” the MBTA.

Unsurprisingly, according to one news report, “the overwhelming consensus favorite” of committee members is the most expensive, calling, as it does, for full electrification of the commuter rail system, a North-South rail link, and service nearly every 15 minutes at every rail stop. On Monday, the T’s oversight board essentially backed the advisory committee’s overall concept, but it didn’t choose a particular plan.

No information has yet been furnished on how any of these plans would be financed, nor what the MBTA would do to reduce traffic problems created by its construction, nor how long any of the plans would take to complete.

It is also not clear how the T would address its existing notorious financial problems. A staggering 50.3 percent of the MBTA’s $2.91 billion pension fund is unfunded. Even when the MBTA is flush with cash, it can’t figure out how to spend the money. According to the MBTA’s 2017 strategic plan, of the $5.1 billion of capital spending planned between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2015, only $2.7 billion was actually spent. Other reports say the MBTA is running a structural deficit of $36.5 million and faces annual debt service costs of almost $500 million.


Then there is the matter of funding. Assuming that the project is paid for by a combination of federal and state tax dollars over a five-year period, we calculate the burden on state taxpayers would be the equivalent of raising the income tax 18.59 percent, based on the 45 percent federal reimbursement rate the MBTA currently uses in its capital planning.

As the Boston Globe mentioned in a July editorial, “The T is now two-and-a-half years into a 15-year timeline for bringing the system into a ‘state of good repair.’ ”

With 12.5 years to go, the MBTA should concentrate on fixing what is broken now and abandon its fantasies about hugely expensive infrastructure improvements.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.