Fixing the T called ‘Herculean’ task;

An aging infrastructure. A massive debt load. And 51 unfunded projects classified as a “danger to life and limb of passengers and/or employees.” Those are just a few of the problems facing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees the Red Line and other transit lines that together provide for 1.2 million rider trips on an average weekday.

The maintenance of a fleet of trains, subway cars, and buses, many of which are due for overhauls or replacement, is “a Herculean and expensive task,” a report to Gov. Deval Patrick said last week. “The MBTA has accomplished many impressive achievements in enhancing safety and service, yet the fact remains that it is dealing with an extensive, aging infrastructure that requires continuous maintenance, refurbishment, and replacement,” the report said.

The unfunded projects, needed to address critical safety and system reliability issues that go unfunded range from rehabbing bridges, replacing platform stairways, replacing backup power generator turbines, repairing tunnel lighting, and replacing 60-year-old cables.
But both Patrick and Beacon Hill lawmakers stress that the T is safe and add that they feel comfortable riding the Red Line. (The author of the report, former John Hancock Life Insurance chief David D’Alessandro, didn’t agree, telling reporters that he wouldn’t ride the part of the Red Line between the Alewife and Harvard stations because of an unfunded safety project.) The report largely does not delve into specific unfunded projects aside from the Alewife/Harvard section.

A significant part of the Red Line runs through Dorchester and into Mattapan, of course. Stops include JFK/UMass, Savin Hill, Fields Corner, Shawmut (near Codman Square), and Ashmont stations, with a connection at Ashmont to a high-speed trolley that takes riders past a cemetery and marshland as it passes through Lower Mills and Milton before reaching Mattapan Station.

So how do local lawmakers view the situation with the T?
“I’ve never had problems,” said state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston), who rides the Red Line from Park St. to Broadway Station. State Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Dorchester) said “isolated incidents” have occurred on the MBTA, but most complaints he’s received from constituents deal with broken lights or unclean walkways in stations.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) said she also feels safe riding the T, and considers it an asset in getting things done while going to work and an opportunity to speak with constituents. “On balance, service seems to be relatively safe,” said District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey, adding, “I think there’s a risk we run whenever we defer maintenance.”

Added state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry: “We knew before the report that capital improvements need to be made.”

But how to pay for those improvements remains an open question on Beacon Hill. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, but a hike in the gas tax isn’t on the table, and gas tax votes in the Senate earlier this year failed.

Chang-Diaz, who voted in favor of a gas tax, said the increase in the sales tax is not a “systemic solution.” “We have patched this one through this fiscal year,” she said. “[But] we have to be real about this.” Walsh agreed. “We have to come up with a revenue stream,” he said. “Gas tax is the way we should’ve done it.”

Patrick has also said that fare hikes won’t be happening anytime soon. “The MBTA will not seek and I will not support a fare increase for the next year or two, longer if possible,” he said at a press conference at JFK/UMass MBTA station last week.

The full 36-page report is available at mbtareview.com.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.