State budget plan locks in trolley, Fairmount spending

Several Dorchester and Mattapan transit investments have been locked in for funding in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s $14.8 billion Capital Investment Plan, which the MassDOT Board approved on June 20.

The five-year statewide plan, which funds projects like road, bridge, and MBTA improvements, involved a collaboration between the MBTA and MassDOT on the final budget. A prioritization system was implemented across the plan, identifying crucial or guaranteed investments in order of importance.

Long promised, the Blue Hill Avenue station on the Fairmount Line is slotted to receive about $26 million, completing the final component of the Fairmount Corridor Improvement project.  According to the investment plan, the station is budgeted for more than $3 million in Fiscal Year 2017, with an additional $22 million to be allocated during Fiscal Years 2018 to 2021.

The Mattapan commuter rail station’s status was uncertain until recently. New Fairmount Line stations, including this one in Mattapan, were mandated in a settlement resolving a 2003 lawsuit against the MBTA and other state agencies for failure to comply with the Big Dig agreement funding rail projects in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

Now, guaranteed by priority in the five-year plan, the Blue Hill Avenue stop is the fifth and final station left for construction under that agreement.  

Two different line items in the plan involve a related “Fairmount/Indigo Commuter Rail Study,” budgeted for about $332,000 in Fiscal Year 2017. No future funding is noted for the subway-like railcars known as diesel multiple units (DMUs), which MassDOT announced in April would not be included in the capital plan.

Another Mattapan project that has received significant support from local elected officials has found its place in the budget. The Mattapan High Speed trolley, which travels between Ashmont station and Mattapan, is approved for about $9 million in maintenance and improvement investments. Its existing Presidential Conference Cars (PCCs) are preferred as the line’s service vehicles by nine local officials that signed a letter authored by state Rep. Dan Cullinane in March.

About $3.7 million is allocated to keep the 70-year old PCC trolleys operational,” according to MBTA spokesperson Joe Pestaturo.

The same officials who support the trolleys oppose any radical line changes, like electric buses, which may be considered years down the line. The capital plan allocates $5 million over the next five years for “PCC Car Replacement-Alternative Service.”

Pesaturo said in an email that this is aimed toward future funding for the line, after a study has assessed the best form and service vehicles.

According to MassDOT, the Capital Investment Plan would cut the MBTA’s State of Good Repair backlog from $7.3 billion to $3.5 billion over the five-year period. About $4 billion will be re-appropriated to repair and rehabilitate aging MBTA infrastructure. The amount includes $1 billion dedicated to signal and power improvements and $1.6 billion for new buses and train cars for the Red, Orange and Green Lines.