MBTA Green Line Extension Finally on Track Thanks to Federal Funding

Dec 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Before the MBTA rings in the New Year on December 31, they have a big deadline to meet: completing the extension of the Green Line to Somerville and Medford. That this deadline is going to pass those communities by without new transit service is not news to anyone. So it was wonderful to learn this week that the state has all but secured close to a billion dollars in federal funding to move this important transit project forward.

With help from the Federal Transit Authority, the MBTA Green Line Extension appears to finally be on track. ©MBTA

With help from the Federal Transit Authority, the MBTA Green Line Extension appears to finally be on track. ©MBTA

Those monies are coming from the Federal Transit Authority, which sent a letter to Congress on December 1 expressing its intention to execute a full funding grant agreement (FFGA) with the MBTA for the design and construction of the 4.7-mile, seven-station extension. The remaining costs for the estimated $2.3 billion project will come from bonds and state operating funds. The FFGA is subject to a 30-day Congressional review, which, coincidentally, is scheduled to end on December 31, the original deadline for the project’s completion.

CLF has pushed for improved transit service for decades, and, in 2006, reached a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth for its failure to meet its commitments to offset increased traffic and pollution from the Big Dig – a settlement that required the MBTA Green Line extension be completed by December 31 of this year. This infusion of federal funds is welcome news for CLF, our partners, and the community members who have waited too long for the state to fulfill its promise – giving us all two reasons to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition Releases Progress Report on Transportation Finance Act of 2013

Mar 20, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

A new report released today by Transportation for Massachusetts and co-authored by CLF Staff Attorney Rafael Mares evaluates the implementation of the Transportation Finance Act of 2013 since its passage last July. The report is the first in a series of planned progress reports aimed at ensuring the new law’s success at addressing the most burning needs of the state’s ailing transportation system.

Last July, the Massachusetts legislature passed the historic funding package, which is projected to raise an estimated $600 million annually for the next five years. While this much-needed infusion of funds is a solid step in the right direction, it falls far short of addressing the full spectrum of funding needs – estimated at $1 billion per year over the next 20 years – across Massachusetts’ roads, rails, and public transit systems.

Transportation Progress Report

The progress report released today points to both positive achievements and future threats to success.

The progress report released today points to both positive achievements of the Act so far as well as future threats to its success. Among the pluses are needed funds for the operation of regional transit authorities (RTAs) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), as well as new capital projects including the purchase of new Red and Orange Line cars for the MBTA, the extension of the Green Line, reconstruction of the I-91 Viaduct in Springfield, and more than 75 additional road and bridge projects.

Among the areas of concern is the lack of adequate funding for the package – many of the projects originally earmarked in the Act do not have enough, or any, funding to move forward. For example, there is insufficient funding available for the timely replacement of RTA buses. Likewise, replacement of Green Line cars was slated for more than $700 million in funding last year, but barely $2.5 million has been reserved for the project.

In its first six months, the report concludes, the legislature and Patrick administration have met the overall expectations of the law, and the new revenues raised are close to what was projected. But, the Commonwealth will have to maintain this pace and catch up on a few deadlines imposed by the Act if this progress is to stay on track. As CLF and fellow coalition members at Transportation for Massachusetts continue to monitor the Act’s implementation we hope that these bi-annual progress reports will help transportation advocates and policy makers identify the unmet needs of the transportation system and take the actions needed to address them.

Read the first progress report now >>

MA Transportation Funding Framework: More (or really less) to the supposedly budget-minded proposal than meets the eye

Apr 4, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means jointly announced a transportation finance framework. Upon close review, there is more (or really less) to the supposedly budget-minded proposal than meets the eye.

In short, the legislature’s answer to MassDOT’s ten-year transportation plan would neither be big enough (it does not even attempt to close the one billion dollar revenue gap), nor long enough (only five years) to meet the Commonwealth’s fundamental transportation needs. The framework would not cover the maintenance of our transportation system, nor keep it in a state of good repair, let alone allow for any investment in modernization. This would leave the entire transportation system vulnerable, staunching economic opportunity by locking in another five years of chronic underfunding for transportation. And rather than providing a real, long-term solution to the real problems associated with chronic underfunding, it guarantees we’ll be having this conversation all over again as soon as next year.

Here is what you should know about the framework:

1)    How the revenue will be raised:

  • The $519 million per year price tag that the legislature is putting on its proposal includes revenue to be raised from the following sources: a $.03 gas tax increase ($95M), indexing the gas tax to inflation starting in 2015 ($15M), a tax on cigarettes, cigars and tobacco products ($165 M), a tax on computer services ($161M), elimination of utility tax classifications ($45M), and a change in the source of sales for multistate corporations ($35M).
  • However, not all of the new revenue is dedicated to transportation. Rather, a total of $260 million per year on average is not allocated to transportation or any other purpose as of now. Apparently no agreement has been reached on how to spend this portion of the new revenue.
  • What the legislature did not advertise is that the framework also directs MassDOT and the MBTA to raise an additional average of $214 per year from unspecified revenue sources the agencies have under their own control. Such revenue sources include primarily fares, tolls, and Registry of Motor Vehicles fees. While modest, planned and regularly scheduled fare, toll, and RMV fee increases are advisable, the amount MassDOT and MBTA would be expected to raise from these sources under the legislature’s proposed framework is nearly double the amount MassDOT proposed to raise from this category in its plan. As a result, it is fair to expect that fares, tolls, and RMV fees would go up as soon as July 1, 2014, and again in the fiscal years 2016 and 2018. So much for the committees’ spin that their stripped-down framework is mindful of people’s pocketbooks.
  • The framework also includes other transportation revenue sources from gambling revenues, contributions from the Convention Center, and contributions from MassPort ($40M).

2)    How the revenue will be spent:

  • While the framework does not list all the particulars on how the money could be spent, it promises to stop borrowing to pay for operating expenses over a three-year period and to provide full funding for snow and ice removal (phased in over a two-year period).
  • The MBTA’s operating deficit would be close to covered for five years, but not quite.
  • The state’s fifteen regional transit authorities (RTAs) would be forward funded in 2014, but would receive a significantly reduced investment from what MassDOT originally proposed. Instead of an additional $100 million/year, the fifteen RTAs would have to make do with an additional $18 million/year.

3)    What is not covered:

  • The framework does not identify any money to borrow for new capital projects. Hence the Commonwealth would not have the ability to address its overwhelming maintenance backlog. Therefore, there would not be enough funding to rehabilitate our structurally deficient bridges (there are over 400 of them in Massachusetts), replace the Red Line, Orange Line, and Green Line cars that are beyond their useful lives, repair the I-91 viaduct, and swap out old RTA buses.
  • The RTAs would continue to be underfunded. As a result, a combination of restoration of service previously cut, increased frequency of service, and longer evening and weekend service will not be possible.
  • No new investment in our state’s transportation system would occur. Think no South Station expansion, no South Coast Rail, no new bike and pedestrian paths, or other improvements. It is noteworthy that the Green Line Extension to Somerville and Medford is legally required, but the New Starts application for federal money, which requires the MBTA’s financial house to be in order, would be put at risk and could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance. Additional delays could also be expected.
  • Although a separate bond bill authorizes an additional $100 million for next year to be spent on local road maintenance, the insufficient amount of money in the framework for debt service and other more pressing needs would mean that this increase could not be released.

While the proposed framework purports to be sustainable, adequate, and simple, on closer look, it unfortunately achieves none of these laudable goals. No matter which way you slice the numbers, there isn’t enough there to achieve the most basic improvements needed to ensure the safety and reliability of our public transit systems, roads and bridges.

Raising taxes at this time is clearly necessary to fund our transportation system, but if we ask people to pay more, we need to make sure that they have something to show for it. This framework fails that simple test.

Let’s Make It Last: Investing our Transportation Dollars Wisely

Mar 1, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Since Governor Patrick proposed his plan to raise revenue for transportation and education, a lot of time has been spent on discussing the merits of the revenue sources he has chosen. In comparison, relatively little time has been devoted to how such money should be spent. The great American humorist Evan Esar once wisely said, “The mint makes it first, it is up to you to make it last.”

Transportation for Massachusetts has worked closely with Representatives Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, Representative Carl Sciortino of Medford, Senator Katherine Clark of Melrose, and others to draft legislation that addresses this side of the coin. In addition, Transportation for Massachusetts helped develop a bill that could prepare Massachusetts for better ways to raise revenue for transportation in the future. In total there are currently three great bills pending that Transportation for Massachusetts helped develop.

Here they are:

An Act relative to transportation investment, regional fairness, and accountability to state policies (HD 3119 introduced by Rep. Farley-Bouvier, Rep. Sciortino, and S. 1670 by Senator Clark) will guide any transportation investments the legislature and the governor agree on to build a financially stable, safer and more modern transportation system in every corner of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This bill would:

  • Eliminate the unsustainable practice of paying for day-to-day operational costs of our highway system by borrowing through state bonds (currently, MassDOT is spending roughly $1.75 for every $1.00 borrowed because of the interest on the bonds);
  • Require that an equitable portion of transportation revenue benefit all regions throughout the Commonwealth;
  • Set aside funding for Gateway Cities and environmental justice neighborhoods to plan and design projects that are eligible for federal transportation money. This would allow these communities to invest in projects that residents care most about—such as fixing roads and bridges, improving Regional Transit Authorities, and investing in sidewalks, bike lanes, and other projects that promote transit oriented development and affordable housing;
  • Require that transportation projects comply with existing policy goals and objectives that reduce pollution, improve public health, improve land-use coordination and meet our mode shift goals;
  • Require that transportation investments over $15 million be analyzed for their impact on our economy, environment, public health, low-income communities and communities of color, pedestrian and bike access, and cost of operations;
  • Ensure that sufficient money is available for critical maintenance and safety investments; and
  • Support the state’s existing mode shift goal to triple trips made on public transportation, biking and walking across the Commonwealth.

An Act relative to contract assistance for Central Artery debt of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (H. 3141 introduced by Rep. Sciortino) proposes a way to address the crippling debt load at the MBTA by paying down the debt related to the Central Artery Project. The legislation would require that the Commonwealth provide contract assistance from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund for the Big Dig debt held by the MBTA. This money couldn’t come out of funds that are already set to support investments at the MBTA or RTAs.

An Act relative to the establishment of a vehicle mileage user fee pilot program by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (H. 3142 introduced by Rep. Farley-Bouvier and Rep. Sciortino) proposes a voluntary vehicle miles traveled pilot program to identify alternatives and supplements to the gas tax. The pilot seeks 1000 volunteers from the entire Commonwealth to evaluate ways to protect data collected, ensure privacy, and vary pricing based on time of driving, type of road, proximity to transit and vehicle fuel in order to help Massachusetts prepare for the future of transportation revenue.

We are grateful to the legislative sponsors of these bills who share our commitment to creating and sustaining a 21st-century transportation system that serves all people in communities across thes state.

You can also find this post on the Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) blog.

Not Much Fat in the Governor’s “Ambitious” Transportation Funding Plan

Jan 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

My son’s third grade class is looking for “juicy” adjectives, and I found one.  Again and again, journalists are describing the Massachusetts Governor’s 21st Century Transportation Plan, which proposes to raise revenue for our chronically underfunded transportation system, as “ambitious.” Not the kind of “ambitious” your mother admired in you when you were a college student, but the “ambitious” that implies hubris. As in asking for a lot. Maybe even too much. Insisting that the Governor’s plan is “ambitious” immediately gets people thinking about how they can cut it down to size. So before the knives come out, having carefully reviewed the plan and understanding the real needs of our transportation system well, let’s take a look at what’s really in there:

  • The plan proposes to increase Chapter 90 funding for local street maintenance and associated projects from $200 to $300 million per year.  The Massachusetts Municipal Association, however, just recently estimated the actual need to be $562 million per year.
  • Likewise, the Governor’s plan only dedicates 23% of the capital to strategic expansion projects, the rest is all maintenance of roads, bridges and transit infrastructure, replacement of old trains and buses, capacity upgrades, and other costs of the current system.
  • More importantly, only 4% of the money set aside in the Governor’s plan for operations is related to strategic expansion projects.
  • The plan also assumes that good and necessary transportation projects which have long been recommended by transportation planners and economists, such as the Red-Blue Connector and the Urban Ring, would be left unfunded over the next ten years.

I don’t know whether “reasonable” or perhaps “conservative” would be juicy enough adjectives for my son and his friends, but they would surely be a more accurate description of the Governor’s transportation plan.

Read My Lips: We Need More Money for Transportation

Jan 24, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

When Governor Deval Patrick stood before the Legislature and the people of Massachusetts last week to offer a bold proposal to raise $1 billion per year to fund critical investments in transportation, he struck a skillful balance between the pragmatic and the visionary, appealing to us as both taxpayers and investors in a thriving Commonwealth.  The Governor asked his constituents to “Imagine if you could depend on a bus or subway that came on time, was safe and comfortable… if the Green Line ran to Medford and the commuter rail ran to Springfield,” among other improvements. He made sure to emphasize that everyone would benefit from a 21st century transportation system, whether they drive a car or take public transit, from one end of the state to the other. And he proposed that everyone pay their share, according to their ability.

It’s a good proposal and a badly needed one. The question now is how to get the buy-in we need to make it happen. Not surprisingly, it’s not too hard to find political opponents and citizens of the Commonwealth to speak out against the proposed tax increases. Who wants a tax increase? It’s like asking someone whether they want a root canal. But if you ask a person in that special dental pain whether she would be willing to pay a fair price to make it go away – indeed to be able to enjoy biting into a delicious crunchy apple —she would almost certainly agree that her investment would be worth it.

With Massachusetts’ transportation system so woefully underfunded for many decades, we are all in that special pain. Crumbling bridges, decaying train cars, vanishing bus routes and unfinished projects are daily reminders that we’ve got a problem that needs to be fixed. And we all have our own version of that delicious apple:  our mode of transportation that gets us where we need to go, when we need to go, safely, reliably and affordably. The problem is that people want the pain to go away – indeed, they want the apple! – but, politicians fear, they don’t want to pay for it.

In fact, a MassINC poll conducted last year showed that 62% of people surveyed said that they would be willing to pay more than they are paying now to improve the transportation system – up to a point. So, maybe we should be asking people not whether they agree with the Governor’s proposal to raise taxes, but rather, whether they agree that a working transportation system is a worthwhile investment. More frequent trains. Easy connections between distant parts of the state. Fast access to the airport. And why stop there? What about cleaner air, less congested roads and more vibrant communities with thriving businesses and the jobs they bring? Let’s talk about the benefits, like the Governor started to do, and help the savvy taxpayer see how her investment will pay off – now and in the future. Our legislators need to hear from the transit champions. C’mon…we know you’re out there.

 

Learning From the Past to Build a Better Transportation Future For Greater Boston

Dec 27, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Imagine this: the Governor of Massachusetts addresses the people of the state about an important issue. From the television screen he looks us all in the eye and discusses . . . transportation infrastructure. Improbable? How about if this happened back in the days of when Boston had 5 commercial channels and one public TV station and a statewide address by a Governor was a very big deal? It may be hard to believe that a subject that wonky and technical could be the focus of that sort of hot and intense attention. But it happened.

The year was 1970 and the Governor was Frank Sargent, the strong leader who years later served as Chairman of the Board of CLF. In that dramatic 1970 speech Governor Sargent accepted a report from a special task force reviewing plans to build a massive network of highways in and around Boston and launched a planning effort that set the course of transportation planning for decades to come. Memorably, Governor Sargent, a former head of the state agency that built and operated highways (then known as the “Department of Public Works”) confessed: “Nearly everyone was sure that highways were the only answer to transportation problems for years to come. But we were wrong.”

The powerful story of that speech, the events that precipitated it and most importantly the massive planning process that followed it is told in The Roads Not Taken, the core story in Turn Signal, the Winter issue of ArchitectureBoston, the quarterly publication of the Boston Society of Architects. And the rest of the issue is well worth your time – both for the eloquent essays, like the story of the activists who fought off the highways that were threatening their community, and the photo essays that document what was saved when the highways were stopped.

The good folks at ArchitectureBoston have done something very important here. The Boston Transportation Planning Review (the “BTPR”) that grew out of that  very unique moment set a powerful precedent for the nation and charted a course that has literally shaped the face and communities of Greater Boston. CLF has had a front-row seat at the implementation process for the BTPR and dove into that process even deeper, unsurprisingly given the importance of the transportation system to our mission and the unique fact that Governor Sargent served as Chair of CLF’s Board of Trustees after leaving office.

As Stephanie Pollack, who worked here at CLF with great distinction for many years, powerfully describes the challenge going forward in an essay in Turn Signal:

Forty years on, the time has come for the Commonwealth to fulfill three of the most important unkept promises: institutionalizing open and visionary planning, healing the scars still left in neighborhoods cleared for the cancelled highway projects, and completing and funding the state’s public transportation system.

This theme of the need to finish the job of the BTPR by providing needed funding to our transportation system and institutionalizing good planning practices was picked up in a recent Boston Globe Op-Ed by former Governor Michael Dukakis and another elder statesman of Massachusetts government who began his career in the BTPR era, Stephen Crosby. Dukakis and Crosby wrote:

With transportation issues again at the top of the Commonwealth’s political agenda, we should look back at those long-ago events not out of nostalgia, but as a roadmap for the equally momentous decisions we face today. After decades of investment, Massachusetts has a vastly improved transportation system that includes an extensive network of highways, the MBTA, and regional transit systems serving virtually every part of the state. But this system and the people and businesses that depend on it are in trouble. From aging bridges in Springfield to the T’s financial woes, the state is paying the price for neglecting the basic maintenance and financial backing that any transportation system requires.

And we can’t just maintain what we’ve already built. For a first-class economic future, the Commonwealth requires a first-class transportation system. As state transportation officials have already spelled out, this future will rely heavily on public transportation and will focus highway funds on maintenance rather than expansion. Massachusetts needs to expand existing transit and build high-speed rail to serve the entire state. With so many projects awaiting action, the Commonwealth once again needs to set honest and rigorous priorities for transportation investment — and create a long-term financing plan to efficiently implement those priorities.

This is indeed the bottom line: building thriving communities will require vision, careful planning and investing in our transportation system. This is not the most fun message (folks may claim otherwise but no one really enjoys slowing down to plan or paying for investments) but it is a solid truth — if we want to keep moving forward we need to build, maintain and operate the system that literally keeps us moving.

Feeling crowded on the MBTA? It’s not just you.

Aug 2, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Platform at Park Street Station. Photo: takomabibelot@flickr

“Watch the doors. Doors are closing. There is more service immediately behind this train. Please wait for the next train. Doors are closing.”

I find I am hearing this message more and more on the MBTA. So when the transit agency announced yesterday that average weekday ridership topped 400 million trips in FY2012, setting a new record, I was not the least bit surprised. Ridership was up 5.7% over last year and June 2012 marked the 17th consecutive month of growth as compared to the same month in the previous year.

Ridership increased across all modes, with the biggest increase in trolley ridership, up by 8% followed by buses up by 5.9% and then subway, up by 5.2%.

MBTA general manager Jonathan Davis credited the record ridership to various factors including a growing state economy, lower state unemployment rates, increased availability of real-time information for riders and an overall improvement of MBTA reliability. To me, the reasons for the increased ridership are less important than the bigger, general trend: more and more people are relying on the Commonwealth’s transit system. This is great news for people and the environment because it means less air pollution and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing transit instead of driving alone produces half the greenhouse gas emissions per mile.  For this we can all breathe easier, whether you use public transit or not.

Unfortunately, last January, the MBTA announced a budget deficit of $159 million. Just a month ago, on July 1, fares went up 23% to raise an additional $84 million a year for the agency. The rest of the deficit was closed by a combination of service changes, administrative efficiencies, and one-time revenues. Already, the MBTA has projected a new operating budget gap of close to $90 million for next year. That means that it’s a guarantee we’ll be having the same conversation again soon and fare increases and service cuts will be on the table once again if we do not come up with a long-term solution and balance the MBTA’s budget for good. The numbers are clear. People want a healthy transit system and the time to invest is now.

Response to OpEd: The Real Fast Track to Trouble

Jul 5, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Rafael Mares, staff attorney at Conservation Law Foundation, authored the following letter to the editor of the Boston Herald in response to Charles Chieppo’s op-ed on July 3, entitled “Fast Track to Trouble“.

Photo Credit: waterj2/flickr

In his op-ed, Charles Chieppo accurately states that the “T is a cornerstone of the regional economy and a lifeline for countless people.” (Fast Track to Trouble, July 3, 2012)  Ironically, Mr. Chieppo considers the very transit improvements that help make the T so important “the worst Massachusetts transportation decision of half of the 20th Century.”  To come to this conclusion, he relies on a number of inaccuracies.  The transit projects required to mitigate the Big Dig air pollution were not finalized two decades ago during the Dukakis administration; they have changed over time, most recently during the Romney administration.  The negative impact on air quality from the Big Dig is real and has been confirmed by scientists during both Democratic and Republican administrations.  The commitments obligated the Commonwealth—not the MBTA—to pay for these improvements.  The MBTA was saddled with the debt only in 2000, through Forward Funding legislation, which overestimated the revenue stream it dedicated to the T.  The legislature’s failure to correct this mistake, by providing sufficient funding or relieving the T of the debt, is a better candidate for the worst transportation decision in recent history.

 

Page 1 of 512345