Testimony to the FMCB, Agenda Item I: Capital Investment Plan
Chairman Aiello, members of the Board, General Manager Poftak, Secretary Tessler, thank you for the opportunity to submit comments today on the MBTA’s Capital Investment Plan.
Capital spending under the FMCB is a remarkable success story. My testimony begins with praise for the Board and MBTA leadership in creating an organization that can deliver 1.7 billion dollars in capital spending each year. Only a few years ago, some argued we needed to wait to see if the MBTA could spend $1 billion a year before considering new projects or revenue. Now you have exceeded that number three years in a row. This is a great accomplishment.
As the MBTA and this Board develop this next CIP, there should be two primary goals:
1) Reducing the State of Good Repair (SGR) backlog
2) Implementing transformational projects that will modernize the public transit system and contribute to the region’s climate change and resiliency goals.
Today, there are significant concerns that this CIP will not be able to meet these goals.
We ask that the FMCB explain what these CIP projections would mean relative to reducing the SGR Backlog. In May 2019, The the SGR backlog was $10.1 Billion. What is the SGR number today and what will it be if you adopt this CIP, as presented?
The MBTA Strategic Plan sets goals of spending $1.5 billion each year through FY32. But the 5-Year Pro Forma shows a sharp decline in capital dollars in FY24. So you are facing approximately a $4 billion funding gap over the next ten years.
Because of this funding gap, the FMCB should try to replicate what has worked over the past few years through maximizing federal funding. The MBTA capital spending success is largely a result of the Green Line Extension Project, where $1 Billion came to the MBTA through the federal New Starts program.
This is the time to aggressively pursue federal funding again, both with the infrastructure bill being developed in Congress and with the next New Starts application. In terms of specific capital projects, this CIP a chance for the FMCB to require action on your priorities and approved initiatives of the last five years.
A Better City hopes you can make sure the Regional Rail projects are cemented in to the plan, so the benefits of this project and a modern MBTA can be realized as soon as possible. Same with the Red-Blue Connector, Advanced Signals for the Red and Orange Lines, and the new Bus Maintenance facilities. The commuter rail and bus infrastructure investments, especially, are critical to meeting the Commonwealth’s climate change goals. This starts with the procurement of battery-electric buses and electric multiple unit (EMU) trains.
In terms of the Better Bus Program, there are reasonable concerns with the purchase of several hundred more buses that are 100% diesel-powered. To meet our statewide climate goals, we should not be buying diesel-powered buses or any vehicle that will be used for the next 12 years or more. Please consider retrofits of current buses in the short-term as we wait for new and better battery-electric-bus technology to become available in the next few years.
A Better City continues to urge the MBTA to allocate a small portion of the federal relief aid, to supplement the CIP planning and design work. We should get a head start on shovel worthy projects that advance the region’s collective transportation and climate change goals, specifically Regional Rail Phase 1 in environmental justice areas and the Red-Blue Connector.
Instead of holding federal aid to be used 39 months from now - in FY25 - let’s maximize this opportunity and spend some of the money now to invest in a modern, clean, affordable, and equitable transit system and help to win federal infrastructure funds.
This strategy is consistent with what worked before for a successful capital spending plan and it can work again.