Massachusetts governor targets MBTA, roads and P3s in $18B bond bill

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker filed a far-reaching $18 billion transportation bond bill, which includes a nearly $5.7 billion upkeep for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The legislation, according to Baker, would support a variety of initiatives to tackle congestion, including a $2,000-per-employee tax credit, capped at $50 million, to encourage telecommuting and remote working.

It would also add innovative financing and construction methods to support capital programs at the MBTA and its parent, the state Department of Transportation.

Under the bill, the MBTA could use alternative project delivery methods such as design/build/finance/operate/maintain; craft real estate deals that include mitigation, and public transit and transportation-related facilities; allow for design-build on all construction and repair projects, not just those with budgets above $5 million; and maximize public-private partnerships.

If enacted, it would also create statewide and municipal pavement programs and provide $150 million for state roads; $20 million for municipalities’ “complete streets” infrastructure; and $70 million for the municipal small bridge program.

“Our economy is growing, our population is growing, and the economic activity that dominates our commonwealth is constrained by the limits of our current system,” Baker told reporters Thursday.

The last such bond bill came five years ago, when, lawmakers approved a $12.7 billion, five-year transportation bond bill that included the South Coast Rail construction, groundbreaking for which took place July 2.

Baker's latest initiative takes on heightened importance given that the state-run MBTA, which operates Greater Boston mass transit and calls itself the nation’s oldest system, has come under fire over a series of mishaps that included derailments, breakdowns and a small locomotive fire on a commuter train Thursday just as 6% subway and commuter fare hikes took effect.

The “T,” as locals call the system, is already embarking on a record five-year, $8 billion capital program that includes replacing 50-year-old trains on its heavy-rail Red and Orange lines, and an overhaul of signaling systems. The capital plan is part of MassDOT's, five-year $18.3 billion transportation capital investment plan for fiscal 2020-2024.

Baker’s bill revolves around four pillars: delivering more options and service enhancements faster at the MBTA; renewing the commonwealth’s Accelerated Bridge Program; extending the telecommuting credit; and authorizing up to half of the revenue generated by the 12-state Transportation and Climate Initiative — under development with Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia — for public transit and the T.

The bill, said Baker, reauthorizes and expands the special revenue bond rail enhancement program to support $2.7 billion for MBTA investments over 10 years beyond those funded in the five-year capital plan.

This, he said, will help fund planning studies and pilots to support the reinvention of both the bus and commuter rail systems, make rail service improvements throughout the commonwealth and invest in infrastructure power and resiliency.

It also authorizes $1.25 billion in grant anticipation notes to support an expanded bridge program, the Next Generation Bridge Financing Program, ensuring the availability of roughly $4 billion over eight years for bridge preservation and reconstruction.

This funding exceeds the size of the recently-completed $1 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, which won The Bond Buyer’s Deal of the Year award in 2011.

In addition to new funding for the MBTA, the bill authorizes $330 million for capital support to the 15 regional transit authorities for fleets and facilities, including bus electrification.

A new $50 million transit infrastructure partnership program will provide grants enabling transit authorities and municipalities to collaborate on bus lanes, transit signal priority and other infrastructure.

The bill also earmarks $250 million for the Allston Multimodal Project, which will involve the reconstruction of the Massachusetts Turnpike at ground level in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, adjacent to Boston University and Harvard.

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Infrastructure State budgets Public-private partnership Charlie Baker Commonwealth of Massachusetts Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Massachusetts