Brief: Recent Green Line Extension and Massachusetts Transportation News
There's been some important transportation news this week. Here's a brief summary of what's happening.
A number of Massachusetts transportation topics—the Green Line Extension, the MBTA's financial crisis, the state's overall transportation agenda, the quest for funding and revenue—are converging this week.
Elected officials are debating many of these issues on Beacon Hill, mayors have been pushing for action, and the federal government has begun to weigh in on the state's transportation outlook.
These issues are all connected. Here's a brief summary of what's been going on.
Green Line Extension enters "New Starts" pipeline
The Federal Transit Administration has approved the Green Line Extension project for the preliminary engineering phase of the administration's New Starts program. New Starts provides federal funding for public transportation projects around the country. Being approved for preliminary engineering is not a guarantee that federal funding is forthcoming, but it's a necessary step for projects that want federal dollars.
How to pay for it?
The state wants New Starts to fund $557 million of the $1.3 billion Green Line Extension project.
However, in accepting the Green Line Extension into the New Starts pipeline, the Federal Transit Administration has voiced concern about how Massachusetts will afford to maintain and operate the MBTA in the future.
The MBTA faced a $161 million deficit in fiscal year 2013, which it plans to close with fare hikes, service changes and action from the state legislature (see below). But that's only a one-year fix. The MBTA's projected budget deficit for next year is $100 million, according to Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey.
In a letter sent to Davey, dated June 11, the Federal Transit Administration outlined with some skepticism the state's plan to address this fiscal crunch.
The state's plan includes:
- Transferring $1.6 billion of MBTA debt to the state
- Implementing a $0.01 per mile statewide tax on vehicle miles traveled
- Allocating casino gaming revenues to the MBTA
And if those options don't work, according to the letter, the state has other plans:
- Increasing fares
- Increasing motor vehicle registration renewal fees
- Indexing the $160 million in state contract assistance to growth in sales tax revenue
- Dedicating a portion of motor vehicle sales tax revenue to the MBTA
- Increasing MBTA parking fees
- Implementing a commercial parking tax
- Indexing the fuel tax to inflation
The letter from the federal administration said, "Considerable progress on gaining commitment of new sources of funding will be necessary before FTA will contemplate approval of the [Green Line Extension] project into [the final design phase.]"
A looming debate about fudning Massachusetts' transportation needs
Regardless of whether or not the Green Line moves forward, the MBTA will likely need to take some of the steps mentioned above, according to a report in the Boston Herald. The Herald article says officials on Beacon Hill are preparing for a larger debate about funding the MBTA.
Meanwhile, mayors and officials from Boston, Somerville, Fitchburg, Salem and elsewhere held a transportation rally Monday afternoon in Boston's South Station. The mayors, along with Davey, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and other transportation advocates intend to pressure the state into investing more in transportation. Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino were among those who spoke.
House to vote on $49 million in aid to MBTA
The Massachusetts House of Representatives is planning to vote on a $49 million emergency aid package to the MBTA Wednesday, according to the Boston Globe. The funding is part of the MBTA's plan to close that $161 million budget deficit, but as Davey is quoted as saying in the Globe article, "We're in crisis mode for transportation; the T really is the tip of the iceberg."