TESTIMONY: MBTA Infrastructure Investments

Presented by Tom Ryan, Senior Advisor on Policy, Government & Community Affairs

Members of the Board, thank you for the opportunity to submit comments today:

Congratulations on Monday’s official opening of the Green Line Extension to Union Square. This is a great accomplishment for the MBTA and an important symbol of the potential impact of the T’s capital program. It helps to remind everyone that ambitious capital investments can strengthen the Commonwealth’s public transportation system and bring excitement to the entire region.

Today, we can continue this momentum by planning the next infrastructure investments to improve, decarbonize, and transform the region’s public transit service. Many capital investment ideas became official commitments years ago, through the MBTA Strategic Plan and schedules approved by the FMCB.

This year, the 5-year Capital Investment Plan should deliver on these recent promises and advance the Red-Blue Connector, the procurement of Type 10 Green Line vehicles, and infrastructure like platform screen doors that will allow the MBTA to reach headway goals for the Red and Orange Lines. The Board should also prioritize funding for projects that address the system’s vulnerability to climate change, as well as electrify the Commuter Rail and bus fleet, including modernization of bus maintenance facilities.

The Biden Administrations Infrastructure Law (BIL) does provide a rare opportunity for the MBTA to use federal dollars to advance many of these promises. We ask the Board to make federal infrastructure grant applications a regular, standing item for these board meetings.

Just yesterday, the federal government released information on the largest competitive grant programs. Applications are due this May! So what capital projects will the MBTA team want to align with applications into these new grant programs? How does the CIP relate to projects that are seeking competitive grants? Or as an alternative approach, are you considering some projects can only to move forward if we get federal funds?

The Board should be asking these questions at each meeting and asking if any spending now can help improve the T’s chances of winning these major federal infrastructure grants. GLX is a great example of what is possible when we try hard for federal funds and spend some early money before submitting our application.

Finally, with the FY23 Budget preview, we hope to see a plan that prioritizes a return to full-service schedules. There will be increased use of public transit soon, as many commuters return to the workplace and travel throughout the region, and the T must be ready with service levels that support reliable public transit use, especially during this period of high gasoline prices. If you need additional financial resources, please consider reallocating a portion of the $500 million transfer from reserves to meet these service demands now, and also lean on the legislature via the Bond Bill to offset the MBTA’s budget plans for matching funds.

As the CIP and budget processes move forward, A Better City urges the MBTA, this Board, and MassDOT to realize the essential role public transportation plays for people, the regional economy, and our environment, particularly as it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

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